Plato’s Stepchildren is a historical episode for American television because it contains the first kiss between an African American person and a Caucasian one, in this case Uhura and Kirk. They kiss each other because they find themselves under the evil influence of the antagonist of the episode, but it’s still a kiss that had never been seen before on the small screen in the United States. When it is said that Star Trek was ahead of its time and that it dealt intelligently with hot topics like racism, it’s also thanks to episodes like this one!
But leaving aside the historical value of this tenth episode of the third season of the Star Trek: The Original Series, what about the plot? Here’s another variation on the theme of Kirk and company trapped by beings with higher powers. In this case, the latter are Plato’s followers led by a being called Parmen (Liam Sullivan), accompanied by his faithful and cruel wife Philana (Barbara Babcock). After being treated by Dr. McCoy, Parmen wants to force the latter to stay on the planet for any future medical emergencies. When the good doctor refuses, Parmen begins to humiliate Kirk and Spock thanks to his psychokinetic powers. He’s good at that, as for centuries he has mistreated poor Alexander (Michael Dunn, the unfortunate midget actor who would die only a few years after the airing of this episode).
What elevates this episode compared to all the others that were based on a similar premise? In my opinion, the fact that Spock, Kirk and McCoy use their intellect in order to understand the source of the Platonians’ powers, thus taking countermeasures to go against them! Instead of the simple destruction of the classic computer with exceptional powers (The Return of the Archons), or the breaking of the random mirror (The Squire of Gothos), or the destruction of an unspecified source of energy (The Apple, Who Mourns for Adonais?), here it’s logic that saves the day!
Moreover, there’s also a nice speech by Captain Kirk to Alexander in which he reveals that the Federation society doesn’t judge people based on their stature or the color of their skin! Not to mention the beautiful song sung (and composed) by Leonard Nimoy as a Spock free to show his emotions (which is dangerous for him and for those around him, and part of Parmen’s humiliation strategy).
In short, Plato’s Stepchildren should be included in a hypothetical list of the best classic Star Trek episodes, even if it’s not a perfect one. For example, the resolution is very rushed, which creates a noticeable imbalance between the long humiliation phase of the Enterprise crew members and the few minutes in which the Platonians give in to Kirk’s resistance. In any case, it’s a must-see episode! Ciao!
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