You Talking Trek to Me? – “Spock’s Brain”

“Spock’s Brain”
Star Trek: The Original Series – Season 3, Episode 1

I admit that my experience with The Original Series is spotty. It wasn’t the Star Trek I grew up on, and because of its uneven track record I haven’t give it a proper, complete watch through. Episodes like “Spock’s Brain” make that a less than alluring proposition, as it’s infamous for being one of the worst. It ticks so many Trek Trope boxes that it seems like a TOS 101 intro course, although at the same time it is definitely not recommended viewing. It is not as actively terrible as I expected, just kind of boring and underbaked from a conceptual standpoint.

On the Enterprise bridge, the crew stares in awe as an advanced ion-powered ship approaches. Without warning, a miniskirted alien babe appears on the bridge and uses one of those all-in-one devices that every Original Series alien seemed to have to stun the entire damn crew. Sure, why not. She saunters over to Spock and stares almost hungrily at his head. Not that I could blame her. But still: ruh roh.

Watch out, she’s green!
“Mmm… with this baby I’ll finally be able to run Cyberpunk at 60 FPS and have more than 4 tabs open in Chrome! Definitely three.”

Everyone wakes up, and Spock is noticeably gone. At least from the bridge; he’s now in sickbay. Whew. No wait, his entire brain has been removed. Ah, shit. As inherently silly as the idea is, McCoy and Kirk do treat what’s happened with an appropriate level of horror and weight. Spock is still alive, a testament to the crazy advanced level of precision the operation was carried out with. But he’s still gonna die in about 24 hours, according to McCoy. And even if they were to track down the powerful engine of his smartypants, McCoy certainly doesn’t have the medical knowledge to put it back in and reattach every neuron and synapse. Game over, man!

But Kirk is singularly determined to save his first officer and friend. His intense focus to help Spock is the highlight of the episode, and it does at least connect with the series’ (and films‘) larger themes of humanity and loyalty to one’s comrades. The convenient countdown until Spock dies also gives the episode some tension, and Kirk’s log entries throughout which spell out how much time is left underlines that.

“My god. He’ll never DESTROY anyone with FACTS and LOGIC again!”

The crew tracks the alien ship’s ion trail to a nearby star system with three inhabited planets. But the trail goes cold before they can figure out which planet it came from. This bit of the episode isn’t bad either, since there is some investigation and deduction based on the available data. That’s the kind of nerdy shit I tune into Trek for! Another interesting and beneficial aspect of the episode is that with Spock out of the picture, Chekov, Sulu, and Uhura get a little bit more screen time and dialogue. Sulu even gets to command the ship while Kirk and Co. are away. He doesn’t get to do a whole lot, but it’s nice to see, at least.

Anywho, none of the planets seem like they would be the source of this super advanced ship. But the cold ice age-y one does have some odd energy readings, so by process of elimination it seems like the only viable option. Beaming down, Kirk’s landing party is soon attacked by a bunch of shaggy not-quite-but-pretty-much-cavemen. With a blast from his phaser, Kirk causes most of them to unga bunga off, but one is left behind and stunned. He conveniently speaks English, which helps move things along somewhat. Identifying himself as a Morg, he speaks cryptically of beings that give “pain and delight.” But inconveniently, he doesn’t understand what a “mate” is, or even a “female.” BUT WHAT OF HETERONORMATIVE LOVE, YOU SHAGGY BRUTE???

“Hark, a broseph! Let us make friends with them in our traditional way – by head clubbing!”

You can see where this is going, and if you guessed that the plot is basically a crappy, gendered version of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, then I have a Styrofoam club trophy for you (or a wrist thingie with a bunch of things glued on it).

Kirk finds a nearby cave that has weapons and food conveniently laid out, and surmises it’s a trap to capture the Morgs. And then we get to the best fucking part of the episode when McCoy beams down with Spock. Yes, the Spock that doesn’t have a brain. Is he on a stretcher or in some kind of stasis thing? Nah, he’s just walking around because Bones has rigged him up to walk around by remote control. Literally zero explanation is given for how this was accomplished, which is ludicrously silly. As fucking bonkers as it is, I guess I do commend the episode for just rolling with it and not bogging itself down with all sorts of extraneous details about it. Spock gets to technically be a part of the adventure, even though he’s just a dead-eyed mindless robot. But robots were a thing at the time, so it does kinda make sense in the context of the period.

“Oh hello, boys. I seem to have gotten lost in my own home. Tee hee.”

Kirk, Scotty, McCoy, and Robo-Spock make their way down into a subterranean structure populated by the alien babes who are known as the Eymorg. Ah, AH??? GET IT??? They also make vocal contact with Spock, who is able to speak to them through their communicators. As a disembodied mind, he’s not sure what is going on and doesn’t provide much in the way of insight about what he’s experiencing, surprisingly.

Kirk stuns one of the women and tries to (literally) shake some info out of her, but she doesn’t seem to know anything. Like, literally not much of anything. Similarly, all the Eymorgs – even the one that boarded the Enterprise and stole Spock’s Brain, Kara – don’t seem to be much above an unga bunga mental level themselves. I will give some minimal credit to the episode for not being as sexist as it absolutely could have been (which is the faintest vapors of praise). In this bifurcated society everyone is an idiot, male and female alike! Ha ha, imagine that! *cries in American*

“Awww, no fair! Our brainless friend was the one who did the TikTok challenge first. We were just copying him!”
“I do not understand this TikTok you speak of. It is something only that people without brains in your culture do?”

Despite technically being in charge, the Eymorgs don’t really seem to know much beyond what they need to for day-to-day survival. Their intellectual infantilism recalls that of the Eloi from The Time Machine (except the Eloi were the ones living above ground being preyed upon by the Morlocks, so we’re mixing things up a bit). In Wells’ story, the Time Traveler posits the interesting (and unsettling) notion that in the year 800,000 humanity had collectively arrived at its own old age and evolved into a small, frail, and incurious race waiting out its sunset years.

The implied theme of the Morg and Eymorg is slightly different and touches upon another recurring Trek theme: how an over-reliance on technology/computers can rob a people of its intellectual vitality. It’s an oddly Luddite message for a show set in the future in which fantastic technology (including yes, super advanced computers) plays a huge part. The Morgs’ survival is supported entirely by the Eymorgs, but the Eymorgs’ survival is dependent on the Controller, which turns out to be a super computer that Spock’s brain has been installed in to be its processor. Or something. The episode is surprisingly vague on a lot of critical details necessary to understand what’s going on and spends an inordinate amount of time spinning its wheels with nonessential stuff. That’s an ever-present flaw of The Original Series – it presents interesting ideas but doesn’t seem as interested in exploring them than it does in repetitive dialogue and unintentionally funny fisticuffs.

And there are just SO MANY unanswered questions concerning these people. Presumably the Morgs and Eymorgs mate in order to reproduce, but the details of how that happens isn’t spelled out (perhaps not surprisingly, given television standards and practices of the time). I guess that’s what the “delight” stuff the Morg were talking about was, but… How do either of these societies function at a basic level? Absolutely no culture of the two peoples are glimpsed at all. There are males in the underground society, but they’re just mute brutes (I really wished that rhymed). What’s up with them? Does the Controller just go through brains as they live and die? Who was the last one? How did they find or know about Spock’s big brain? Was it just chance they found him? And most importantly, how did this whole situation arise in the first place?

“It’s difficult to explain, Captain. My existence has never been more fulfilling, solving increasingly long equations in something called the block chain and processing the sales and trades of the most unusual simian-based imagery.”

That’s all potentially interesting material, but none of it is explored at all. Eventually, Kirk and Co. free themselves of their pain-giving belts and overthrow their female captors (SYMBOLISM???). The gut-bustingly hilarious climax of this action has Kirk writhing in agony on the ground while using McCoy’s remote control to make Spock wrestle the pain-giving control away from Kara. It’s so great.

Anyway, they find a curious device known as the Teacher. It’s a cool idea (and preceded The Matrix by several decades) – a helmet that can basically teach anyone to do anything (even removing a brain without killing the subject), although the knowledge wears off after a time. Turns out the reason why Kara doesn’t even remember boarding the Enterprise and stealing Spock’s nougaty noggin center is because such knowledge wore off after the Teacher gave it to her. But she doesn’t even retain the memory of doing it? Sure, whatever.

She’s adamant about not returning it, since it’s necessary to run her society. Kirk is insistent, but doesn’t make much of a case beyond “he’s my friend, he’ll die, that’s messed up.” Kara even gives him the ol’ “the needs of the many” gambit (CHECKMATE!), which surprisingly doesn’t sway Kirk (OH, OK). They just go back and forth repeating their positions without offering any alternatives to one another. *checks watch*

But McCoy has the crazy idea of using the Teacher to learn how to reattach Spock’s brain. Spock warns him that it may cause unintended and even deadly effects on McCoy since it’s not made for humans. It’s certainly brave of McCoy (and would not be the last time he risks his mind for Spock), and Spock’s refusal to allow someone to risk their life for his is noble. But Kirk didn’t come all this way to be noble, dammit!

So McCoy uses the Teacher and is able to start hooking up Spock’s brain again. But part way through the procedure he forgets how to do it, until Spock hilariously suggests he reconnect his speech centers so he can talk him through the rest of the procedure. LOL, OK.

This is not the flop sweat of a sober man. Remember to get your annual whiskey gland checkup after 40.

Kara is of course concerned about how her society will now function, but Kirk unilaterally decides that they’ll be fine so long as they reunite with the Morgs and start doing it like they do on the History Channel. For all the breath the series gave to not violating the prime directive, it’s inconsistent and not a great look. Granted, the Eymorgs were wrong for stealing Spock and almost killing him in the first place, but Kirk deciding that their two peoples must realign their culture to what he thinks it should be (and how humanity functions) is galaxy-brained nuttiness.

Ultimately, any split society is not great (something Trek has emphasized often) so Kirk does have a point, generally speaking. But like most everything in this episode, it’s not well thought out and sidesteps any nuance in its implications. In the most generous reading I can muster, neither the men nor women of this planet are flourishing. The men lead a primitive life of aggression, scavenging, and survival. The nicely-dressed women are in a comfortable environment that supplies all their creature comforts, but not anything beyond that. There’s no culture or intellectualism in either society to speak of. BUT WHAT OF ART AND ENTERTAINMENT, I ASK YOU??? By living separately, they’re doing both of themselves a disservice.

Because when the sexes battle, the loser is… all of us. Thank you.

I guess. Or something. I dunno.

Sooooo Spock ends up fine, and the cavemen and swinging-60’s ladies will probably be fine, but honestly who cares. The hilariously frustrating capper to the episode comes when an awakened Spock starts excitedly monologuing about how the Morg/Eymorg society came to be in the first place. Which, like: FUCKING FINALLY. How did all this shit happen in the first place? We get to find out and maybe justify this whole excursion! Except as he gets into it, McCoy makes a crack about regretting hooking up his speech centers, everyone SENSIBLY CHUCKLES because SHUT UP NERD, and the episode just ends right there! WHAT THE ABSOLUTE FUCK. I mean, it’s not like we’re out here to seek out new life and new civilizations and learn about them or anything. THAT’S DORK STUFF FOR DORKS, YOU DAMN DIRTY DORK.


“You really have a fascinating society! Now shut up while I mansplain its entire history to you, doll face.”

Despite featuring a separated society of the sexes, “Spock’s Brain” isn’t really about that. Which, considering the greater sexist attitudes of the 1960’s, is a good thing. It does feature a requisite baseline amount of sexism that’s unfortunately a cost of entry with the show. But ultimately, “Spock’s Brain” isn’t really about anything at all. Which, considering the heights that The Original Series could occasionally reach, is a bad thing. For a story centered around such a complex and marvelously intelligent thing, it’s a surprisingly dull and silly affair without a lot of thought put into it.

Stray Observations:

  • Controlling someone’s motor functions by remote would be repeated in a much more amusing and morbid manner in Deep Space Nine’s “The Magnificent Ferengi.”
  • The plot of the split society, one with technological prowess and the much more primitive other one having to unify to save themselves would be re-used verbatim in The Next Generation’s “Up the Long Ladder” without much greater success than here.
  • Again with the faint praise for an episode that probably doesn’t deserve it, but Kirk seducing the alien babes isn’t a plot point at all! Shocking!
  • Kara (with a powered-up brain from the Teacher) is able to remove Spock’s brain without killing him, a delicate procedure McCoy is in awe of. From a story perspective this is of course to demonstrate how super advanced these aliens are. But logically, what’s the point of doing it in a non-deadly way? The Eymorgs (and the Controller) clearly don’t care about the consequences of their actions for others, so why bother to leave Spock’s empty head so neat and tidy? Just rip it out and GTFO; who cares?
  • The idea of a society being controlled by its central computer is one that has cropped up again and again throughout Star Trek. In The Original Series this idea was notably done in Season 2’s “The Apple,” and the episode ended in similar fashion to this one, with the mechanized being destroyed and its people forced to fend for themselves.
  • The novelty of a – GASP! – female-dominated society thankfully isn’t over-played here, although it is an idea that also crops up from time to time throughout the various series. In The Next Generation’s “Angel One” we visit such a society where women are in charge and demure men look pretty and wear perfume. In Deep Space Nine’s “Sanctuary” the station is besieged by a woman-led race where the men are immature dolts. And in Voyager’s “Favorite Son” Harry Kim runs afoul of a predatory race of women who lure men to their sexual graves. Nope, nothing offensive about that.

    In each case these one-off aliens are presented as a curiosity in this regard and fall into the general trap of Trek’s “mono-races.” In some episodes featuring the regular races (Klingon, Ferengi, Cardassian), the cultural roles of its males and females are explored in a slightly more nuanced manner and make for better stories. But as a bunch of shows made by mostly straight cis men, they still have a lot of unfortunate sexist baggage as well as an overall limited (if not wildly offensive) outlook where gender is concerned.
  • As crappy and listless as this show could be, it’s still such a visual delight. To this day it’s honestly one of the most stunning Star Trek series to behold; I just love looking at it.
“Mr. Chekov, set a course for Sigma Dreamy VII. Warp factor smolder.”
“You try anything and you’ll be fuchsia. I mean finished. Yeah, that’s right. Don’t even pink about it.”
  • I love the ol’ “phaser a rock for heat and light” trick the crew always does. Chekov and a couple of red shirts do that to entertain themselves while Kirk and the rest go underground and… that’s it for them. The story just forgets about these jacketless goons sitting up there on the surface warming their hands. Likewise with the Morg, who we only see in the one scene. SHRUG.
“Ha ha, take that. Stupid rock. I’ll show you who’s boss. You like that, don’t you. Uh oh. Now I’m having WEIRD FEELINGS.”