Star Trek is arguably the greatest — and indisputably the most influential — science-fiction television series in history. That doesn’t mean it’s flawless. More than a few of Kirk and Spock’s original voyages were (ahem) less than stellar. We round out the bottom five for your reading…pleasure?
5. Turnabout Intruder [Video clip]
This episode was the last and, by some measures, the least of the original series. It also has the distinction of being perhaps the most sexist Star Trek episode ever made, which, despite the series’ relatively progressive reputation, is still quite the feat. The plot involves yet another ex-girlfriend of Captain Kirk, Dr. Janice Lester, who believes she has been denied command of a starship because she’s a woman (and not because she’s a narcissistic sociopath). Her solution is to murder her research team, lure the Enterprise in to investigate said murders, then switch bodies with Kirk to take over his ship — all while embodying the worst stereotypes of “hysterical womanhood” the 1960s could muster. Girl power!
4. The Omega Glory [Video clip]
Even on its best days, Star Trek can be a bit heavy-handed in its allegories, but this 60-minute trainwreck had all the subtlety of a photon torpedo to the gut — and it’s painfully jingoistic, to boot. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and a redshirt are lured by rogue Starfleet Captain Tracy to a planet overrun by savages with incredibly long lifespans. Tracy is helping the “Kohms” in their war with “Yangs” — thereby violating the Prime Directive — in the hopes of discovering the secret of their agelessness. It takes all of five minutes to reveal that A) the “Fountain of Youth” is a plot device that goes nowhere and B) the Yangs and Kohms are descendants of Yankees and Communists that fought a nuclear war on a hamfistedly parallel Earth. Oh, and Kirk actually saves the day by reciting the US Pledge of Allegiance. Yeah, seriously.
3. And the Children Shall Lead [Video clip]
Set aside the fact that this episode sees the Enterprise taken over by a gang of elementary school kids, it’s also essentially a ghost story wherein the evil child-possessing demon Gorgan is defeated with home movies. It’s as if the scriptwriting team from Scooby Doo tried to produce an episode of Tales From the Crypt, which would be bizarrely fun if it all wasn’t somehow wrapped in inanity and crammed into a science-fiction show.
2. The Way to Eden [Video clip]
Otherwise known as the “space hippy” episode, this gem wastes an hour taking glaring potshots at 1960s counterculture in the most patronizing fashion possible. The Enterprise captures a group of — I’m not making this up — space hippies looking for the mythical planet Eden. Said space hippies manage to take over the Enterprise with the cunning use of a folk-music singalong. They then divert the Enterprise into Romulan space to find the otherwise unexplained planet which –while looking beautiful — is covered in poisonous plant life. Basically, Kirk and crew fail but nonetheless succeed because the hippies are stupid, which again makes you wonder how they ever took over Kirk’s ship.
1. Spock’s Brain [Full episode video]
Generally considered to be the worst episode of any Star Trek series ever — a title of disgrace that has endured despite the later invention of both Star Trek: Voyager and Enterprise. “Spock’s Brain” involves the literal kidnapping of Spock’s brain — not Spock, just his brain — by the Sigma Draconians, a race of aliens that has become functionally idiotic due to an over-reliance on technology. The antagonists actually steal the most intelligent mind they can find because they can’t be expected to think for themselves, which would be an interesting metaphor if it wasn’t so glaringly dumb. Leonard Nimoy spends most of the episode playing Spock’s disembrained body that Kirk and McCoy operate via remote-control earmuffs.
Then there’s the episode “plot” — if this morass can be said to have such a thing. The Draconians are separated by sex for reasons never explained. Kirk “solves” the kidnapping-slash-failed-civilization crisis by basically wrecking the only functioning tech left on the planet and hoping the Draconians learn to make spears and fire (and little Draconians) before the extinction-level ice age they’re enjoying wipes everyone out. Oh, and who can forget this famous line, which will haunt all Trekkies to the end of time: “Brain and brain, what is brain?” If you can avoid just one Trek episode for the rest of your life, “Spock’s Brain” is the one to miss.
Got a Star Trek trauma you think outranks these atrocities, or just want to commiserate with your fellow Trekkies over the fandom horrors you’ve endured? Misery awaits company in the comments section.
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