Most of the behind-the-scenes books about Star Trek emphasize that NBC wanted episodes featuring the crew beaming down to an alien world featured first and not just ones that all took place on board the starship Enterprise. This always struck me as odd because it meant that stronger episodes like “The Corbomite Maneuver” were delayed until long into the initial run of episodes while episodes like “Mudd’s Women” or “The Man Trap” would get an earlier air date.
But then you get to an episode like “The Enemy Within” and you think maybe NBC had some method to the madness by which they chose how the original episodes would run.
It’s hard to imagine that NBC would be excited to see an episode that has the “dark half” of your heroic lead lurching about the ship, sipping brandy, leering at and assaulting female crewmembers and beating the stuffing out of a crewman who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Meanwhile, you’ve got your “light half” slowly losing is power of command and his force of will. Each half acts less than heroic, to the point that I recall my mother asking me what was wrong with Captain Kirk in this episode one of the first times I saw it in syndication.
And yet “The Enemy Within” makes a strong enough impression and is a solid enough examination of what it means to be human and in command that I’d say it’s one of the strongest of the first dozen or so pre Gene Coon episodes of the original series. The credit goes to the script by Richard Matheson, who was crafting stories about ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances long before Stephen King arrived on the scene, and the acting job done by William Shatner.
As easy as it can be to give Shatner grief for some of his acting choices as Kirk (even some within the context of this episode), you can’t really overlook that fact that he does a good job of distinguishing the two halves of Kirk in this episode from each other. And while he does overplay a few moments from the “dark half” of Kirk (see the “I’m Captain Kirk!” scenes), there are multiple other instances where his performance hits or exceeds the mark. One moment that springs to mind is the conversation with Spock about why he had to be reminded he couldn’t tell the crew about his circumstances less he risk losing the power of command.
It’s this conversation and the one in sickbay about two halves having to live and work together to make up a commander that sparked a paper in college based on this episode and Machiavelli’s “The Prince.” I was a freshman, trying to find a way to tackle that first paper and it seemed like Trek was the perfect way to frame my arguments with a concrete example. I got an A- on the paper so I guess the professor agreed to some extent or else I was really good at constructing my points to support it.
All mentions of past glories aside, this can be an incredibly dark episode at times. I recall that once right after The Motion Picture debuted I was staying with my grandparents and saw that Star Trek was airing later in the evening. Being obsessed with all things taking place in outer space at the time, I convinced them and my mom to let me watch it that evening. Either a commercial came on that they determined was too scary for me or it could have been this episode and the Janice Rand sequence that caused my grandparents and parents to decide that was enough Star Trek for one night.
Given how old I was in 1980, if it was because of the scene in Rand’s quarters, I fully understand. I watched this one again while feeding my infant daughter because odds are that at less than four months old, she won’t recall any of it. But I can’t see letting her watch it by herself until she’s a bit older and watching it with her.
On a less serious note, I would be remiss if I didn’t wonder why Kirk has concealer in his quarters to use. Maybe he does take Spock’s advice that a commander can’t look anything less than perfect to the eyes of his crew a bit too seriously. I guess the crew just won’t follow a guy down to the planet if he’s got a zit or a blemish.
I also feel like this episode was written before the series bible was in place to point out that a shuttlecraft could go down and pick up Sulu and the landing party. I also kept wondering if beaming down coffee and other supplies to survive the cold temperatures and having them replicated would really be such a terrible thing. I guess one doesn’t a cup of evil coffee or to snuggle up under an evil blanket.
As always, here are some links to help you dig a bit deeper.