‘The Squire of Gothos” is about the emptiness of the “The Squire of Gothos”
“The Squire of Gothos” is often rated highly by Trek aficionados, but on rewatch it’s difficult to see why. It’s basically a retread of “Charlie X,” stripped of that episode’s creeping anxiety and disturbing horror imagery, and with a less interesting antagonist. Like “Shore Leave,” though “The Squire of Gothos” does seem to almost be commenting on its own inadequacies. It’s like the creators figured that as long as they were recycling their own and others’ ideas, they might as well just admit it.
The Enterprise is (once again) delivering supplies to a colony in need, which seems to be their go to mission more than exploring strange new worlds. But in any case, on their way to drop off the goods they pass through an empty “star desert,” only to stumble on a previously uncharted planet. As they pass said planet, Helmsman Sulu (George Takei) and Captain Kirk (William Shatner) suddenly disappear from the bridge. Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) assumes command and sends a landing party to the planet to try to find the missing crew.
They beam down into what should be a poisonous atmosphere, only to discover a lovely woods and an 18th-century dwelling. They are greeted by a man who calls himself Trelane, the Squire of Gothos (William Campbell.) He is (yet another) godlike being, who has been observing Earth. But thanks to the distance light has to travel, he’s been watching events from 900 years in the past. Undaunted, he tries to get the crew to dance, dine, and fight, threatening them with death and eternal imprisonment. Finally, though (again as in Charlie X), we learn he’s not an adult omnipotent being, but a child omnipotent being. His “parents” apologize to Kirk for all the trouble and take him away.
Trelane inspired the all-powerful trickster Q from the Next Generation. And like those Q episodes, this one suffers from a kind of smirking structurelessness. The writers clearly think they’re being clever, but when anything can happen, it’s difficult to work up much interest in anything that does.
Trelane transports people down from the Enterprise, they beam back up, he transports them down again. Sometimes he seems to be able to control people’s minds (he makes Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) play the harpsichord for him) and then sometimes not so much. Kirk shoots out a mirror that hides a machine that has something to do with Trelane’s power, but then it doesn’t really and he didn’t need the machine after all? It’s virtually all plot holes with a thin spackle of “who can question a godlike being!?” covering up the chasms.
William Campbell mugging enthusiastically is supposed to make it all worthwhile. But his decadent selfish noble feels pretty old hand— you can see Leslie Banks play the same character with a lot more dash and ruthlessness, right down to the piano accompaniment, in The Most Dangerous Game from 1934.
“The Squire of Gothos” is a hollow pastiche of previous Trek scripts and older genre tropes—and Paul Schneider and director Don McDougall all but put up cue cards admitting as much. Trelane tells the crew that he wants them to supply him with the genre entertainment he’s used to from watching (on television?) in the past. He stages contests and trials and is beside himself with glee when Kirk pretends to be jealous about his attentions to Yeoman Ross (Venita Wolf). “Are you challenging me to a duel?” he squeals. “This is better than I'd planned!” It’s like he’s speaking for the show creators, thrilled to be offering viewers some standard entertainment.
That entertainment is secondhand and lacks conviction though, much like the sets. The wood fire in the villa “doesn’t give off any heat at all;” the “food has no taste” and the “wine has no flavor.” As Spock says “Trelane knows all of the Earth forms, but none of the substance;” the performance here lacks authenticity. Trelane—like the show itself—is going through the motions, miming or imitating swashbuckling and suspenseful set-pieces, but without conviction.
Even the final scene in which Trelane is called back home by his parents feels like a weirdly hollow pastiche of Leave It to Beaver, the Brady Bunch or some other sitcom celebrating patriarchal authority and traditional domesticity. The back-and-forth, with Trelane begging to be allowed to stay out and play, is supposed to be funny and weird, as we realize this godlike being is only a naughty child. But the ending, with the wise powerful parents swooping down to solve everything, is in fact how these kinds of shows end. It’s just that the father and mother are replaced by vague blobs of glowing light, as if the creators barely have the energy or the interest to complete the story.
“I object to you,” Spock tells Trelane, deadpan, in the best line of the episode. “I object to intellect without discipline. I object to power without constructive purpose.” He could just about be addressing the creators of the episode, who have laid out a story without discipline or much in the way of constructive purpose.
Star Trek, like Spock, sometimes seems ready to distance itself from these shallow genre machinations, declaring itself done with violence, with sexual jealousy, with conquest. But Trelane insists, “We're all military men under the skin. And how we do love our uniforms.” The universe is laid out before our heroes, brimming with possibility. But somehow they keep getting stuck with supply runs, and the plots keep building up to a set-piece where Kirk fights some belligerent antagonist one-on-one, hand-to-hand, blood for blood and steel for steel.
No doubt the retro sets are money-savers since they can cannibalize props from period dramas (and from an old episode or two; the Salt Vampire costume from “The Man-Trap” shows up in an alcove.) But the retro impulse also mirrors Trelane’s shallow obsession with the past. There’s a certain comfort in restaging the familiar without going anywhere too boldly. Discipline and purpose are all very well, but sometimes, like the Squire of Gothos, you just want to sit down and watch something you’ve seen before.
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This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Image Credit: 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.