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  • Ric Crossman

1.1.16 "Eppur Si Muove"

The Galileo Seven

A local attacks the Galileo with a big rock.

Spock gets his turn in the spotlight. But will it fall and crush him?

Ungroomed For Command

The motivations for this episode are fairly simple. The public had been given their first taste of Spock, and it was a flavour to their liking. Giving him his own command for a week was an appropriately logical move.

Let’s note then that just on this level alone, the episode is a success. To paraphrase The West Wing, Kirk has always been the guy, and Spock has always been the guy the guy relies on. In fact, given Kirk’s unusually hands-on approach to running a starship, Spock may have less familiarity with the command aspects of his job than any other first officer in Starfleet.

Neither of those points is meant as a criticism. Kirk has a specific approach, and his First Officer works within that approach. The potential downside to the arrangement, though, is that Spock’s own command muscles might end up significantly under-developed. This isn’t just about Spock in command. It’s about him being unfamiliar with command, which adds spice to watching him try to maintain control (in multiple senses) during a spiralling crisis.

Already we’ve got a solid foundation. This is then built upon in various smart ways. The guest cast are all on their game, particularly a typically good-value Don Marshall (surely the only actor ever to be typecast as a crash survivor menaced by giants), and John Crawford, who as Commissioner Farris ably manages the thankless task of making someone completely in the right still be utterly unbearable.

Then there’s the design work. Although the vagaries of production mean we already saw a Starfleet shuttlecraft in “The Menagerie”, this was the episode for which the model and set were built, and both are worthy inclusions to the slowly growing list of classic Trek designs. The alien planet, with its rocky outcroppings and sinister mist, is a highlight of the show’s use of the Desilu lot. Lastly there’s the aliens themselves, who are built up through prop switches and forced perspectives, and make for a genuinely effective threat. I’m not sure how much I buy the story that their make-up was so terrifying they weren’t allowed to be seen clearly on-screen, but the decision to hold back on a close-up works out very well regardless. As is so often the case, the lack of a clear picture makes what’s hunting our protagonists more unnerving. Beyond this, though, it ties in with Spock struggling here in large part because he cannot recognise the Taurans as people, as oppose to a puzzle he must find the right way to solve.

The Taurans here need careful handling, given their position in the narrative. It’s important to avoid othering them, say by casting them as some sort of implacable, unreasoning threat. The fact that this is precisely how the film this episode is based on, Five Came Back [1], used its own natives is no excuse.

There’s at least an argument that this is precisely what “The Galileo Seven” is doing with the natives of Taurus II. There’s not much in the way of clear photographic record of the make-up job applied to Buck Maffei, but production stills don’t exactly convince me everyone involved was giving due weight to cultural sensitivities.

A native to the planet Galileo crashed on.

Yeah. Somehow the Klingons are a step up from this dude. He looks like the police sketch you’d get if you asked Lovecraft to describe his assailant.

Ugly design doesn’t necessarily mean an equally ugly script, naturally. There’s nothing axiomatically problematic about the idea an alien culture would object to a bunch of English-speakers in colorful uniforms showing up uninvited [2]. We should at least consider the possibility Crawford and Bar-David were working to create a distinct culture. The most prominent evidence in favour of this interpretation is the detail that the Taurans play some kind of musical instrument. Spocks summarises the sound as “wood rubbing on some kind of leather”, which is more or less exactly how you would expect a Vulcan to describe a friction drum.

The importance of this link lies in the fact that friction drums are commonly (though not exclusively) associated with European cultures, and only barely pre-modern ones at that. They don’t seem to fit within the Anthropology 101 analysis Spock provides regarding who lives on the planet. His entire approach is untenable, built as it is upon a category error.

Which rather raises the question of where else this might be true.

A Little Anthropological Knowledge Is A Dangerous Thing

As I’ve said, the basic premise of a first-class second fiddle finally getting a solo is a strong one, particularly in so well-constructed an orchestra pit. You still need some decent sheet music to make the whole thing work, though. Today, we’re attend a performance of The Limits Of Logic Concerto. The score’s central question: how far can logic get you when dealing with people who stubbornly refuse to respond the way you’re sure they technically should do?

“The Galileo Seven” comes at this from two directions. The issues it causes with those under Spock’s command I’ll come back to. Let’s stick with the Taurans for now. What is it that makes Spock unable to effectively outthink the locals? I’ve argued already that this follows from him not really recognising them as people, but why is that the case to begin with?

There are several possible answers to this. The most obvious route is also the least convincing. Perhaps the intent here is that we’re watching a clash between the pure logic of Spock, and the pure instinct of the Taurans. This actually sounds like a fairly standard Roddenberry move, actually. That’s not a compliment, of course; that approach would quickly careen into the problematic territory sketched out above. Spock’s inability to either communicate with or predict the Taurans tells us nothing about their own mindset. To use a loaded term, another culture isn’t inscrutable just because you can’t figure them out.

It’s to the episode’s credit, then, that it seems determined to take a different road. McCoy is very clear in his criticism of Spock – the problem isn’t the Taurans can’t be understood, it’s that Spock’s mindset won’t allow him to understand them.

Regular readers will be unsurprised that I’m broadly behind this criticism (though not entirely, as we’ll come to). It dovetails with my position on Vulcans to see someone raised in that culture assume, ludicrously, that he can deduce another culture’s reactions from first principles. There’s an almost indecent pleasure in watching someone insist you can understand a society by finding parallels for the two objects you happen to have, and then seeing them fall flat on their face. This is what happens when you let scientists practice social science unsupervised. While it’s true that both the design of the Taurans and the positioning of them on the borders of this episode softens the blow against cultural reductionism, the basic point that you can’t just sit down and extrapolate a culture from your own questionable assumptions still comes through.

This then leads us to a third way to view the Taurans, which is as a mirror of Spock’s own crewmates. The fellow officers of the Galileo may share a language with Spock, but it’s not clear he actually understands them any better than he does the locals. His treatment of them is similarly dismissive, as well. He shows no interest in involving himself of the ritual of Latimer’s funeral, and he pours icy scorn on Gaetano’s desire to respond to that death with a full-on counter-attack.

In neither case is it impossible to see his point – indeed, I’m not comfortable with the episode’s implication that shooting to kill was the objectively correct choice, as if no society ever responded to its people being murdered by going to war. But it isn’t always enough simply to be right. Even when his basic position is sound, Spock’s assumption that he simply must know best and that he just needs to wait until everyone else inevitably recognises that fact merely ends up making things worse. He's convinced command consists of telling those under you that they are wrong to feel what they feel.

As a result, Spock’s intellectual browbeating achieves the exact opposite of what he intends, just as does firing his phaser. That’s why the weapons need to be drained before the castaways can escape. The very structure of the episode is refuting his approach.

Love In The Time Of New Paris Plague

So far, so damning. “The Galileo Seven” seems to be reading the right physiology textbooks when it comes to vivisecting the Vulcan approach. It appears to cut still deeper in its final moments, when Spock ejects the last of the shuttle’s fuel reserves and ignites it, in the desperate hope someone will see it. At last, the coldly logical Science Officer reacts from the heart, and as a result, the mission is saved. Right?

Well, that’s complicated. First of all, it’s not clear that there’s anything illogical about deciding burning up in the atmosphere is preferable to dying of dehydration, starvation, exposure, and/or an unsolicited spearing. Beyond that, there’s a much more interesting interpretation of Spock’s choice than a sudden burst of panic. Bear in mind that he’s not hoping that just anyone will see the burst. He’s hoping that Kirk will see it. He’s gambling his captain will have found himself unable to leave by the deadline his mission required. [3]

Spock isn’t ignoring his own commitment to logic. He’s recognising and accounting for – relying on – the emotions of someone else. Instead of dismissing a different way of thinking, he’s considering those differences in the process of commanding more effectively. Admittedly, it’s not clear how much of this represents personal growth following his experiences on the mission, and how much it reflects the unique nature of Spock and Kirk’s relationship (though both alternatives get us to the same conclusion that Spock is indeed entirely capable of command). It’s certainly the latter that explains Spock’s comments on the bridge in the final scene. He’s not embarrassed about the fact his actions could be interpreted as emotional; he’s unwilling to admit he’d staked his life and four other people’s on the idea that Kirk loves him too much to promptly deliver medicine to plague victims. You can certainly see why he’d want to keep that quiet, even in the face of Kirk himself deliberately trying to wind him up about it. [4]

The conclusion isn’t that Spock’s approach is worthless. It’s that it needs to be wedded to a recognition of the validity and importance of other approaches. The episode is good enough to provide us with further material on this point, via the counter-example of Commissioner Farris.

Here is someone who most certainly cannot be considered unemotional. He’s clearly consumed by concern for the sick colonists of New Paris. But he wields that empathy like a cudgel, beating down Kirk’s own emotions at every opportunity by insisting that by prioritising a larger number of people, he has automatic moral superiority. I have no truck with the mean-spirited and hypocritical phrase “virtue signalling”, but if I did, Farris would be one of the few people it would be fair to apply it to.

I’m not saying he’s wrong. Indeed, he’s fairly clearly in the right. Spock at least would certainly agree with his position, as per Wrath of Khan (how perfect then that Kirk rejects the idea here, just as he does in Search For Spock). It’s the enjoyment he takes in repeatedly hammering the point home that creates the problem. He has no more interest in listening to anybody else than Spock does, it’s just he’s using his emotions (foremost among them righteous indignation) as his justification, rather than logic. “My priorities save more lives than your priorities, therefore your position is beneath my notice”.

Neither Farris’ approach, nor that of the Vulcans can work. “The Galileo Seven” is a reminder that strength is born of diversity. It knows the best way to think stems from not thinking you know best. If humanity is ever to clear the fog and reach the heights that Trek promises, remembering that is essential. We have, as the episode says, very few alternatives.

[1] Complete digression, but I adore that film’s title, simply because it serves as a reminder of how recent and extreme a phenomenon the Cult of Spoilers is.

[2] The theory that The Original Series colour-coded its security personnel as futuristic Redcoats, and kept gleefully dispatching them for the same reason, is a topic for another time.

[3] Let's note in passing that in broadcast order, Spock's position on this is buttressed by the fact he himself interrupted a mission he considered vital to save Kirk's shuttlecraft. In production order, the reverse is true. To quote Captain Janeway, sometimes effect precedes cause.

[4] I hate these kinds of ending, by the way. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA three people have died.

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