It’s time for Star Trek Saturdays #25!
This week’s episode is “This Side of Paradise” and while it’s very much of its time, it also has a poignant message and is a remarkable showcase for Leonard Nimoy.
We open with the Enterprise approaching the planet Omicron Ceta III, the site of an agriculture-minded colony established three years ago. Kirk expects this mission to be a grim one because, as he and Spock establish through dialogue, the planet is constantly bombarded with deadly berthold rays, which wasn’t discovered until after the colonists had left Earth.
Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Sulu, Lt. DeSalle (Michael Barrier–not the animation scholar) and Lt. Kelowitz (Grant Woods)–the last two characters have appeared before–beam down onto the planet–which looks an awful lot like some guy’s ranch in Northern California somewhere–and see nothing, thinking their worst fears are confirmed. A voice tells them otherwise, and it turns out to belong to colony leader Elias Sandoval (Frank Overton). “I may be mistaken, Jim,” McCoy says, “but that man is very much alive.”
Sandoval shows them all into the main indoor hub of the colony, where they encounter botanist Leila Kalomi (Jill Ireland) who was once Spock’s girlfriend on Earth six years ago. Needless to say, this causes some surprise among the others.
But it’s not nearly as surprising as the thing McCoy, performing examinations with his tricorder, discovers: every colonist on the planet is in perfect physical health, to the point where previous injuries had healed. When queried, Sandoval replies that it must be due to the colonists being vegetarian. But the landing party discovers other anomalies, such as a barn with no animals and no vehicles of any kind, which Sandoval says is deliberate.
Spock repeatedly questions Leila as to how on Earth all this is possible and Leila shows him. She takes him to a large plant that sprays spores all over him and Spock’s emotional walls break down. He confesses he loves Leila and kisses her madly. But what are these spores and why do they affect everybody so? And what happens when they start landing on the crew of the Enterprise?
D.C. Fontana is credited with the script and co-writing the story here and this is by far her strongest work yet. In fact, so the story goes, she was handed a draft of this story to fix and complete by Gene Roddenberry, who promised to make her story editor in return. Whether that’s true or not, Fontana brings it all here: a tight central mystery, interesting characters for the crew to bounce off of, a heavy conflict for Kirk to deal with and most importantly, stuff that humanizes Spock.
This is the first time we’ve seen Spock become emotional really since way back in “The Naked Time” and while there, it was sad, here, it’s joyous. This is Nimoy’s episode through and through and he owns it. He shows that even a half-human like Spock can love and lose, same as the rest of us, and gives us complete and utter bliss and sheer happiness that I bet no one must have thought we’d see. It’s terrific.
This episode is directed by Ralph Senesky, who went on to do many more episodes and many, many other TV shows, and he’s terrific here. He takes full advantage of shooting on location, using wide crane shots and sweeping scenery where he can, and his handling of things like the introduction of Leila is simply gorgeous stuff.
While this is Nimoy’s episode, everyone else is fine too. We learn McCoy is apparently Southern; one point, Kelley lapses into a Georgian accent, which is surreal but utterly convincing, making one see why Kelley landed all those Western parts. Sulu gets some good moments too, the other two lieutenants are pretty solid and Shatner gets to explore Kirk’s loneliness and need for Spock as well as show off some impressive anger. Overton–best known for Sheriff Heck Tate in To Kill A Mockingbird–and Jill Ireland–best known for TV roles and being married to Charles Bronson–are both fine too, with Overton selling Sandoval’s scheme and Ireland making Leila’s longing for Spock utterly palpable.
Thanks to Memory Alpha, the official Star Trek wiki for the pics and episode information, as well as Amazon Instant for hosting the show. We’ll see you next Saturday and until then, live long and prosper.