Where No Man Has Gone Before

This episode was the second pilot for Star Trek, so as with The Cage, you can tell that there was a lot still up in the air as compared to the rest of the series. But even though the actors had not yet quite settled into their parts, and there are still a few notable main characters yet to be introduced, it does feel very much like Star Trek.

Spock playing 3-D Chess

Spock mocks your Earth emotions

While Spock is carried over from The Cage, we start to see him becoming more like the Spock we will eventually come to know and love. His half-human heritage is mentioned, as well as his embracing of logic- though his remark about irritation being “one of your Earth emotion” is delivered with a bit of snark, so it’s still a work in progress.

I consider this episode a very good representation of what Science Fiction, as a genre, is best at: using the incredible to teach a lesson about the mundane. In this case, it’s a take on the adage that “power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Gary Mitchell begins the episode as Kirk’s old friend, and by the end is trying to murder him. Along the way, he kills a random crewman and begins corrupting Dr. Dehner as well. The part I find chilling is how even Gary admits that Spock’s recommended course of action – killing Mitchell before he becomes too powerful – is the right one.

Dr. Dehner

Dr. Dehner

I’m also fascinated by the character of Elizabeth Dehner. Gary Mitchell basically calls her an ice queen because she rebuffs his sexual innuendo at the beginning of the episode. Then, as the story progresses, she seems intrigued by his growing power. At times, I almost get the feeling she’s so swept along by the power he exudes – and begins to share with her – that she almost can’t control herself. Even though she doesn’t really put up visible resistance, once he gives her his shiny-eye, she almost seems dazed, following him without really understanding why. It isn’t until she sees him trying to kill Kirk that she finally comes to herself and uses her slice of the power to distract Gary enough that Kirk can take him down. When she dies, it’s almost as if she simply gives up the will to live. I’m frankly not sure what to make of this, to be honest. I just find the character’s descent very interesting, and very sad.

On a side note, this episode also marks the first of many times that Kirk gets his shirt ripped during a fistfight. Just thought I’d throw that in there.

While canonically the source of Gary Mitchell’s power is never explained (did it leech out of the barrier at the edge of the galaxy?), I’d like to point out as a note of interest that there is a novel (which of course is not canon) that claims it came from Q. Exactly how it happens, I won’t spoil, because it’s a great story that you should read.

Gary Mitchell

The power of Gary compels you!

Considering that The Cage was rejected for basically being too “cerebral” with not enough action, I admit I’m a little surprised that Where No Man Has Gone Before was accepted. Though it does have a bit more action, it’s also a character-driven episode with a lot of meat to it. That’s not a bad thing, either. Personally, I place it among my favorite episodes of TOS. It’s a solid entry and a great example of the Sci-Fi genre at its best.

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2 thoughts on “Where No Man Has Gone Before

  1. I’ve always thought it ironic that Dehner is presented as a “walking freezer unit” in this episode, because the actress, Sally Kellerman, would later be cast as the original “Hot Lips Hulahan” in the theatrical M*A*S*H, in which she decidedly was NOT a walking freezer unit. Not sure why I think that’s funny, it just is. And because I always think it’s cool when an actor shows up in a supporting role in a TV series like this, ends up becoming a big star in their own right. Like Joan Collins, for example.

    I also have noticed, watching this episode dozens of times over the decades, that it really doesn’t have that much more action than The Cage, it’s more character-driven, with mystery and a little bit of horror.

    But I think the answer is two-fold. One, you must look at the context of early sixties television. In those days, “action” did not mean the same thing that it does today. We are so conditioned by 80’s era action movies, and more recent high-octane spectacles like the Bourne movies, the MI movies, F&F, etc, that anything without constant explosions, car chases and martial arts, just isn’t action.

    But if you look at contemporary shows that were deemed action-oriented, like westerns, the original Mission Impossible series, cop shows, etc, you’ll find they really don’t have THAT much action compared to modern shows/movies. Usually, just a fist fight or gun fight somewhere in the show was enough. I also think that staging such action stunts was just harder to do on a TV budget in those days.

    So when you compare The Cage’s action elements to WNMHGB, there really is about the same level of action, but the difference is in where it is.

    In The Cage, the episode’s climax, is just Captain Pike and a bunch of butt-head aliens standing on the surface of Talos IV talking. There’s nothing wrong with that scene, I’m not criticizing it. It did what it was supposed to do, which was to show why Vina wanted to stay, and to show the Talosians weren’t all bad, and let Pike go no worse for the wear. But in terms of action, it was a pretty static scene, where not much really happened.

    But in WNMHGB, the climax is an old-fashioned shirt-ripping fist fight, god-like beings throwing lightning bolts at each other and Captain Kirk displaying his big old phaser-rifle (which no other Enterprise crewman gets to hold, and it’s bigger than anything else anyone ever uses…not sure what that means). And that’s what stays with you, and why the network probably thought it worked better.

    Also, I think it’s just clear from this episode that Shatner is a more energetic and charismatic actor, and just looks and acts the part of an action hero.

    I think most people would agree that objectively, Jeffrey Hunter was a more skilled actor than Shatner. But Shatner just works better as Kirk, because he is just more awesome, and charismatic. That is, Hunter would be better in a serious dramatic role that required subtlety and range. But Shatner is Kirk, and that’s just the way it is.

  2. Oh, and speaking of supporting cast showing up in later films, how can I forget Gary Lockwood, who would be better known a few years later as Astronaut Frank Poole in 1968’s 2001:A Space Oddesy?

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