LITERALLY PUTTING THE MAN IN “NO MAN HAS GONE BEFORE”
The very first episode of Star Trek: TOS to air was Where No Man Has Gone Before.
Like the unaired pilot before it, The Cage, Where No Man Has Gone Before, was driven by questions of gender and epistemology (how do human know things? Is it experience? Is it reason/logic?). Unfortunately, the approach to the sexes in this episode is very much watered down, compared to “The Cage” but sorta makes up for it with an opening scene that has a positive portrayal of Black men (though they don’t have any lines really). Hey, it’s better than most shows today, so, off to a good start diversity wise for TOS. What troubles me the most about this episode is the depiction of Dr. Elizabeth Dehner, who’s a doctor only in that she like a psychiatrist, talking to patients about their problems (reminiscent of TNG‘s Deanna Troi). Dehner is a strongish female character that gets turned into the goddess damsel in distress. When an accident transforms Captain James T. Kirk‘s friend, Lt. Commander Gary Mitchell into a telepath endowed also with telekinesis and superior strength, trouble ensues on the Enterprise as Mitchell wishes to eradicate all humans starting with his own crewmates.
Mitchell is placed into the science fiction trope of an evolved human who sees himself as divine. Mitchell argues that the world cannot exist with two races living side by side, so the weaker humans have to be eliminated. Mitchell’s dream of domination is explained while he is having lunch with Dr. Dehner, with the meal being an apple from a different planet. Roddenberry sticks to ripping off Genesis again (Adam and Eve in The Cage), and now a man and woman eating of the fruits, claiming of divine power. Mitchell and, for a while, Dehner, obsess over how self-important and glorious they are over and against homo sapiens. Kirk, who had argued with Spock earlier over a game of chess about the importance of emotion, contends that “every god needs compassion.” Mitchell the new god is defeated by force and human ingenuity because Kirk has very little choice. At the conclusion, Spock admits to learning emotion, and then Kirk responds, “there is hope for you yet.”
Within this episode, one can see a clear battle of ideas: who will the man of the future be? The MAN of Passion or the MAN OF Rationality? What about ways of being and knowing in the world that include a concept of community and the presence of the Other, specifically women? The division of logic and emotion is not the simple, the mind cannot be severed from the body, and vice versa. Or what about religious epistemologies, say, Christianity, that affirm the presence of the Spirit in the everyday lives of believers, many of whom are renowned thinkers? With these ideas in mind, I think it’s fair to say that Star Trek while being intended to be progressive on gender issues, takes a step back, returning to Where Many Men Have Gone Before.