“Miri” is a confusing amalgam of Cold War fears and youth culture pastiche which seems to have been hijacked in equal measure by half-baked concepts, budgetary restraints, and a failure of nerve.
The vacillation and confusion aren’t exactly fun to watch. But it does undermine the putative message in interesting ways. Are we really supposed to believe that these bumbling, violent, and duplicitous adults who keep tripping over plot holes are going to save the children?
The episode opens as The Enterprise discovers a planet that is, somehow, for never explained reasons, an exact duplicate of Earth circa 1960. They beam down into an abandoned desolate city, where they find a bicycle and are attacked by a purple-mottled humanoid.
Soon enough, they learn that scientists on the planet were trying to extend life. But their experiments unleashed a lethal plague that drove adults mad and then killed them. Only children (called “Onlies”) are left. Those children live for hundreds of years aging slowly until they reach adolescence at which point they contract the plague and die.
Thanks to the typically dismal Federation quarantine protocols, the landing party inevitably contracts the disease too. Unable to return to the ship, they race against time to discover a vaccine. One youth, Miri (Kim Darby) helps them because she has a crush on Captain Kirk (William Shatner). But the other children are in what is effectively a Dickensian gang and are not friendly; they steal the adult’s communicators, cutting them off from their high-tech computers and effectively dooming them.
Seen It Before
The children vs. adults storyline has some parallels with the earlier episode “Charlie X”. In that story, an adolescent challenged adult authority, threatening a Vietnam-era audience with youth revolution.
There are scenes in “Miri” that are obviously inspired by the youth protests of the day and the fear of chaos and disorder. In a pointed sequence in a former classroom, the Onlies bang on desks and mock their (long dead) teachers. Kirk tries to convince the children that the plague will eventually kill all of them, if food shortages don’t get them first. But the children take up a mocking chant and even assault him with sticks, refusing to let him talk. Campus cancel culture is out of control.
The Onlies need some discipline, no doubt. But the real problem on this alternate Earth is the “Grups,” or grown-ups. It was the Grups, after all, who accidentally unleashed a world-destroying bio-plague. The plague, moreover, turns adults violent and aggressive; as the disease progresses Kirk and his crew get irritable, angry, and irrational. Kids are mischievous and infuriating. But adults are infuriated. They’re dangerous. “I remember the things you Grups did, burning, yelling, hurting people,” Miri says.
“We didn’t do anything like that,” Kirk assures Miri. But didn’t they? With Vietnam protests ramping up when the episode aired in 1966, it would have to occur to viewers that “burning, yelling, hurting people” was a fair description of how the supposed grown-ups were conducting themselves during the Cold War. Miri’s Earth looks exactly like our Earth. Are the adults out there, who destroyed themselves in an excess of rage, so different from the adults back here, who at the time seemed (and still seem) determined to destroy themselves in an excess of (nuclear) rage?
Also, for someone who claims to be on the side of peace and not hurting people, Kirk hurts an awful lot of people. When the enraged but unarmed man sick of plague attacks the landing party early in the episode, Kirk doesn’t restrain him or ask Spock to nerve-pinch him. Instead, he punches him repeatedly in the face till he collapses—dead as it turns out. Later when another sick girl attacks Krik he shoots her with a phaser on stun and then acts surprised when she dies, even though at that point he knows plague victims are sick and in precarious health.
Kirk’s relationship with Miri is also disturbing. The actor, Kim Darby, was 19 at the time, but the character is supposed to be just entering puberty; she’s developmentally around 13 or 14. Kirk nonetheless flirts with her flagrantly, telling her she’s pretty and that he likes her in order to get her to help them. When Yeoman Rand (Grace Lee Whitney) expresses some concern about the relationship, first officer Spock (Leonard Nimoy) reminds her that Miri is some 300 years old. That’s a queasily flip dismissal, not least because it’s familiar. Adults mistreating children will often make the excuse that they’re mature for their age.
The conclusion of the episode doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence either. After much bickering, Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelly) figures out a cure, and the landing party returns to The Enterprise. Rand again is worried about the children; Kirk has apparently left just a single medical team to care for all the Onlies on the planet. Kirk assures her that social workers are on the way, though he doesn’t explain why they can’t stay to provide aid in the meantime. And how are they vaccinating everyone? Getting them food and other medical supplies? They’ve got a massive humanitarian crisis on their hands. But after a crack about a need for truant officers and not dating older women, Kirk shrugs and pulls out of orbit.
Kirk’s violence, callousness, and negligence are attributable in large part to the indifferent talent behind the camera. Star Trek writers included some first-rate science fiction creators, but this episode’s scripter, Adrian Spies, isn’t one of them. In one scene the Onlies steal all of the landing party’s communicators because the Federation officers are apparently in the habit of leaving their incredibly valuable advanced tech just lying around in emergencies. And, again, no one ever explains why they’ve found an exact duplicate of Earth on the far side of the galaxy. After they discover the resemblance in the first few minutes, they never mention it again.
As portrayed here, Captain Kirk and his crew (with the possible exception of Yeoman Rand) are laughably incompetent stooges who lack curiosity, recklessly expose themselves to disease, kill people they claim they’re going to help, lie to and manipulate children and then smugly pat themselves on the back for abandoning their responsibilities. No wonder the kids don’t trust them.
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This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Featured Image Courtesy of Desilu Productions.
Noah Berlatsky is a freelance writer based in Chicago. His book, Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics was published by Rutgers University Press. He thinks the Adam West Batman is the best Batman, darn it.