The One When ‘Star Trek’ Used Technology to Excuse a Horrifyingly Sexist Planet
Reflections on ‘Spock’s Brain,’ the worst episode in the series
While its legions of fans will surely disagree, I think when most laymen consider the hallmarks of the original Star Trek TV series, they imagine charmingly goofy science fiction and occasional chauvinism, as the crew of the USS Enterprise traveled the universe only to discover it was chock-full of alien women in sexy outfits — most of whom found Captain Kirk irresistible. Many of these original episodes were genuinely great. But there was also complete garbage, like “Spock’s Brain.”
Not every fan considers “Spock’s Brain” to be the worst episode of classic Star Trek, but most have it in the top three. It was the show’s third season premiere, airing in 1968 after NBC had significantly cut its budget, prompting a disgruntled Gene Roddenberry to step back from the series he created. But these problems don’t even come close to justifying the wretchedness of this episode, which embraces horrifyingly overt sexism.
It begins when the Enterprise encounters a spaceship of unknown yet highly advanced design, and a woman suddenly teleports onto the bridge. She’s dressed in her native alien fashion — a purple lamé dress revealing the maximum cleavage allowed on NBC at the time, as well as thigh-high purple leather boots. Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) is not particularly unhappy about this intrusion until the woman presses a doohickey on her wrist, which knocks out every single crew member of the Enterprise simultaneously. When everyone comes to, Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (DeForest Kelley) urgently calls Kirk to the sick bay, where Spock (Leonard Nimoy) has been discovered on life support.
Because the alien woman stole his brain.
Let me be very clear about this: Spock’s mind was not stolen, nor was his knowledge “sucked out” or anything like that. His physical brain was surgically removed from his skull with such impossibly advanced skill that somehow all the nerves were “neatly sealed” and there was “no bleeding.” Because he now has a softball-sized empty space in his head, Spock’s body only has 24 hours before it completely perishes.