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  • Ric Crossman

1.1.7 "I Choose To Take That Literally"

What Are Little Girls Made Of?

Kirk stares nervously at Ruk.
A rare still from this episode featuring neither cleavage nor a penis-rock.

Well, our route into this one is uncommonly easy. After all, when an episode asks you a question with its very title, it’d almost be rude not to try and answer it.

There are four androids that dwell in the caverns below Exo III. Three of them take forms coded as male (to the extent the term has meaning regarding Ruk). So why does the episode have the name it does? Not to get all MRA about this, but why doesn’t the title ask what little boys are made of?

“This is how you make an android!” Korby says grandly, gesturing at his revolving table. Kirk is strapped down onto one side, with a barely-humanoid lump of white-green something opposite him. This, we can assume, is how Brown was made, and Korby himself. You plug a living person into one slot, a chunk of cybernetic papier-mâché into the other, and you set your furniture on spin cycle.

But if this is how you make an android, we’re left with an obvious problem. The Korby, Brown and Kirk machines all were created by copying and pasting a human being who was already present. But what about Andrea? Where did she come from? What, in fact, is she made of?

“I Just Want Christine”

These are important questions, and I’ll cycle back round to them. But this isn’t just about Andrea. The episode’s title includes a plural, after all. We can just as easily ask what Christine Chapel is made of (let’s just take as read my issues with implicitly referring to Andrea and Christine as “little girls” and move on). And we absolutely should talk about that, because based on what we see here it’s some pretty impressive material indeed. It can get lost in all the talk about how Barrett might have got her role – a discussion in which I couldn’t possibly have less interest – but Christine is absolutely put through the wringer here. I’d far rather talk about the character than the ins and outs of deciding who would play her.

So, to answer the question: judging by this episode, Nurse Christine Chapel is made of warm velvet and tempered steel. Do not try to break this woman; she has been through it all. Attempt it and you will fail, and she’ll stare at you with sadness and pity. Look at what she’s endured already in her young life. First, she falls for and gets engaged to her college professor, and you’ve got to figure that even in the 23rd century that’s not a move which gets you talked about in respectful tones. No-one will have whispered “Here comes Christine! Nobody tell her we were discussing how sensible and appropriate her life choices have been!”.

Next, she makes the conscious choice to give up on a career working alongside her husband-to-be, signing up instead aboard a starship. Whether she did this so no-one could claim she was living in Korby’s shadow, or out of a basic need to help people on a more personal level than biomedical research would allow for, stretching the two-body problem across interstellar distances is a hell of a brave move. I wonder how far she was from Exo III when she learned her fiancé had been assumed to have died there, and how many times she had to refuse to believe it until it finally turned out to not be true.

Not true for an afternoon, anyway. Then it’s real again. Roger goes from presumed dead to miraculously alive to long gone and with his face stolen by a robot, all in a few hours. Hours, of course, in which she and her captain are held prisoner by (who she believes is) the man she loves. A man she fell for because he cared so totally and indiscriminately he literally wouldn’t hurt a fly, but who is now willing to kill – sorry, “destroy” – those who might stop him explaining his plans in a forum where no-one feels comfortable laughing at them.

It’s not like running into Andrea can have been the most delightful experience, either. How many of us could come up with as acidic a comment as “mechanical geisha”, or deliver it so calmly, upon discovering our long-missing fiancé had been living in secret with an unspeakably gorgeous half-naked android? I’ve seen it suggested that Chapel is being hypocritical here given how she came on to Spock just a few episodes earlier. Even if Chapel hadn’t been badly space-drunk at the time, though, she thought her fiancé was most likely dead. Trying to draw parallels between her behaviour and Korby’s is ridiculous. He cut the connection, so he takes the blame.

As transparently appalling as Korby’s treatment of her has been and now is, however, she has no doubts about where her loyalties lie. She’s principled and collected enough to tell Kirk – or what he she thinks is Kirk – to his face: she’s not torn. Roger is alive, and in her personal and professional opinion entirely sane. This concludes the conversation. She’ll throw herself to her death before she obeys an order from the captain to move against the man she loves. She needs the chance to understand what has happened and for Korby to prove that he really is no longer the person she once knew, and that has to happen on her timetable, not Kirk’s. Which is a hell of a thing to say to your commanding officer. Christine doesn’t beg or plead, though, or even really make any demands. She simply calmly states how things need to be.

Somehow, in fact, Nurse Chapel manages to remain calm almost throughout. Not cold, by any means; her compassion is always obvious. It’s compassion at a slight remove, though. Perhaps that’s just how she is, or maybe she’s retreated into her professional demeanour, and trying to approach Korby as a patient to help, rather than a lover to be let down by. Maybe the plan is to hide her empathy for a specific person beneath the boundless empathy she offers to people in general.

Whatever the specifics of her coping mechanism, it seems to more or less work. For a while, anyway. It could never last indefinitely, and the point at which it finally breaks down is when she finally realises what Roger has become. Her own empathy busts its dam and explodes outwards just as it becomes clear Korby has no empathy of his own left anymore. It becomes unmissable; he’s been swallowed by a whirlwind of facts and computations and data and transmissions. Buried so far and so long under his work and under his planet that almost every part of him has fossilised, leaving only his brain. Which just isn’t enough, and when Christine decides to tell him so, it brings about his end.

This genuinely counts as one of the saddest moments in Star Trek. It’s honestly upsetting to watch Korby finally understand what the sketchy transmission system he relied upon to deliver his essence has failed to port across. It’s clear from his face there’s just enough of him left in there for him to be horrified there isn’t more. But while sufficient Roger remains in Roger for him to decide he wants out, there’s not enough for him to realise shooting himself in front of Christine is the absolute worst thing he could do.

The strength of mind it must have taken Chapel to get through all that. To stay on the Enterprise, too. It would be so easy to hold Kirk responsible for everything that happened. He shot Brown, he broke Andrea, he radicalised Ruk, and he tore away Korby’s skin. He had a security team beamed down to the planet in direct contravention of Korby’s express warning, thereby starting all the trouble. And yet she doesn’t blame him. Or at least, if she does, she doesn’t let it overwhelm the need to care for others that led her into space in the first place.

Christine keeps taking orders from the man who helped destroy what little was left of the love of her life. She keeps working alongside the crew that was filled with delight for her when she left, and that can only stare at her in pity upon her return. She, like Dr Elizabeth Dehner before her, responds to an almost impossible situation by choosing to keep doing her damn job.

That’s what Nurse Christine Chapel is made of. What other tale about her role here could possibly be worth the telling?

Turing 2.0

We had other questions that needed answering, though. I started off wanting to talk about Andrea. Just what is she doing deep beneath the ice of Exo III? Well, here we hit something of a problem. It’s pretty much always a terrible idea to define a female character in terms of her relationship with a male one. Right now, though, we don’t really get an awful lot of choice. Andrea only exists because Roger Korby specifically created her; his nature and needs are inextricably tied up in her very being. We’ll have to talk about Korby before we can move on to Andrea.

First of all, let’s eliminate some possibilities. Andrea wasn’t created to help make more androids. By definition, it could not have required Andrea’s help to create Andrea. She might speed the process up, admittedly – creating the Kirk android appeared to be a two-person process, so four droids could spew out new robots twice as quickly. If Korby were concerned about speed of replication, however, he’d surely have already gotten started creating a new race of androids to handle grunt-work and admin whilst he’s converting people. The fact he hasn’t implies Andrea serves some other purpose.

Let’s go back to Korby’s transferal. Trying to move your being, entirely unchanged, from one body to another comes attached to a rather fundamental problem: there’s no way to tell if you’ve been fully successful. The new you might detect no change from what it remembers of life before, but those memories themselves were part of the transferal. There’s no independent verification; you’re trying to check the functionality of a new set of neural pathways through the use of those same pathways. Any internal diagnostic is therefore inherently untrustworthy.

Since Korby is a smart guy, and the problem is an obvious one, we can assume he was aware of it. He must have known some kind of external testing was going to be necessary to check that he remained fundamentally unchanged. Ironically, he seems to have forgotten this inside his new body, failing the test precisely by dismissing the need for it. Part of what makes Korby’s fate so tragic is that in his new form he’s convinced that the mere recollection of facts is sufficient evidence of perfect identity replication. Just look at how impressed he is when the Kirk android passes his human counterpart’s test, as though that were proof of anything at all beyond an impressive capacity for data storage [1]. Is this all you need to demonstrate perfect mimicry of the human mind through artificial means? Deep Blue with a chiselled jaw? It’s obvious to everyone but nu-Korby himself that this isn’t enough; that a rather more holistic test is called for.

And as I say, “everyone” surely must have included Korby himself, back inside his original body. Brown tells us his boss once taught that “Freedom of movement and choice produced the human spirit”. As a guiding principle I find this rather lacking, but it’s clear evidence that Korby once knew there was more to a person than what they remember of their past. I think Korby both knew that he needed external testing, and that he would have to set that testing up before the transfer in case afterwards his new mind decided it wasn’t necessary. Further, I think that Andrea and Brown themselves were supposed to be that testing regime. And if I’m right, both of them proved that Korby’s transferal was ultimately a failure long before the Enterprise ever arrived.

A lot of the behaviour of Korby’s staff can be explained in terms of their diagnosis having been rejected. Why else would Brown tell his boss’ visitors what he does? He reminds our heroes that Korby once spoke of how the fundamental nature of humanity requires open space, and tells of how the original inhabitants’ descent into this planet – the one they’re currently descending into – led to an over-reliance on mechanisms at the cost of individuality. He’s seems to be clearly implying that Korby has become too fixated on artificial constructs, and that he has forgotten what it means to be human.

Perhaps that’s all his programming allows him to do, as far as talking to strangers goes. I imagine he said rather more to Korby in person. New Korby ignored him entirely, however, because apparently even a robot can persuade themselves self-serving hypocrisy is a principled development in thinking – in fact, constantly bothering Korby with these inconvenient truths might be what got Brown replaced with an android in the first place. So Brown does what he can, and gives what warnings he is able to. And when that doesn’t work, and his last chance to persuade his friend of the futility of his galaxy-changing plans fizzles to nothing, he reaches for suicide by Starfleet captain. Here there is one last test for Korby: will it occur to him for so much as a second to care that his assistant of more than five years is now gone forever?

No, turns out to be the answer. No it won’t. Korby fails that test too.

Finally we’ve reached the point where we can at least start to discuss Andrea. I see a disquieting possibility that she too has a role in testing Korby’s post-transfer identity. While Brown was already around to fulfil that role, though, Andrea had to be specifically created. And for what? Well, ugh. So much ugh.

Let’s start with Andrea’s response to Kirk after he forces her to receive his kiss (after you’ve finished vomiting in rage over it, of course). She tells him she’s “not programmed for” him. Not that she isn’t programmed for love, or lust, or physical intimacy. That she isn’t programmed for anything on that list coming from Kirk. Between this, the fact she loves Korby despite it being strongly implied that Korby’s own love didn’t survive the androidification process, and her stunning beauty, the conclusion is depressingly straightforward. If Brown is there to check Korby’s intellect remains intact, Andrea’s purview is his passion.

(Even her name comes into play here: Andrea is a feminine derivative of Andrew; a name meaning both “man” and “husband”. Andrea, the only android who presents as female, is intended as a wife for Korby, with all the attendant implications we know the word has both from the prevailing culture of the time and all the crap we had to sit through during “Mudd’s Women”. Under such reactionary framings, acquiring a wife is the only acceptable way for a man’s passion to be expended.)

There’s all sorts of moral issues thrown up here. Is it OK to create a beautiful robot that is desperate for you to love them? And is it better or worse if, having done, so you then reject it completely? I don’t really have anything useful to say regarding those questions; as usual with these AI-related dilemmas, I have nothing on which to hang a position. That’s not to say I don’t feel terrible for Andrea, though. Imagine only having one goal in life and being denied it by the very person who both wanted you to believe the goal was critical and that what they wanted was all that mattered? For informed commentary on the morality of her creation though, I’m afraid you’ll have to look elsewhere. I can’t help with that.

What I can do is talk about is what this failure resulted in. In order to demonstrate his sexuality has survived the transfer, Korby creates the most desirable woman he can possibly can, either from his own imagination or a database or some such he brought with him (I like to think he used Sherry Jackson herself, maybe from her appearance in Barbary Coast).

Sherry Jackson, making a guest appearance in the Shatner-starring "Barbary Coast".
Fun fact, Shatner wears black- AND yellowface in this episode.

The location from where he sourced her image is irrelevant, though. What matters is how totally Korby has failed the test when he decides he’s not interested in Andrea, and the lies he’s told himself so he can keep believing everything’s fine. Because he clearly must have told himself something to let him carry on with his plan as though nothing was amiss. So ask yourself this: what lie would a person reach for when all external factors suggest they should be totally into someone, and yet they find yourself completely unable to engage, emotionally or physically?

There’s probably plenty of answers to that question, actually, and I hope you never find yourself needing to search for one yourself. For sure though I can give you one obvious answer: you pretend the problem is you're still hung up on your ex.

Here’s another question for you. Why does Korby respond to the Enterprise in the first place? He’s ignored two previous search missions to Exo III. Why break silence now? Because he’s finally prepared after half a decade of work? He’s only built two androids!

I think Korby saw an opportunity. I think he recognised the name of the ship as being the one Christine serves on, and made contact in the hopes of bringing her down to the planet. Now, he tells himself, he can finally prove he’s indistinguishable from his former, fleshy variant both by fooling the person who knew him best, and by finally feeling all those emotions and impulses Andrea has so totally failed to evoke.

The whole plan fails wretchedly, of course. All Korby manages to do is humiliate Chapel with Andrea’s appearance and attitude, and to start the process that leads to Andrea’s rebellion by pushing her onto Kirk as some ridiculous performance piece about how she means nothing to him.

“You, Sir, Are Worse Than Hitler!”

There’s more that I want to say about Andrea, but I do want to note in passing the possible metaphor here. I want to be as careful about this as I can, because I’m going to be talking about experiences of which I have no direct knowledge. That said, when I watch Korby’s repeated failed attempts to prove he can feel romantic and physical attraction, and the ongoing humiliation it causes, I’m reminded of an old friend of mine, and his struggles decades ago with trying to make heterosexual relationships work whilst he was still struggling to accept his identity as a gay man.

I think there might be something to the idea of reading Korby as queer-coded, but the problem with it in my own reading is that it would link being queer with a failure, or a mistake, or there being something missing from his psyche, none of which I want to imply. There’s also the fact that robo-Korby is also clearly a git; just one more in an endless line of aca-derp-ic characters designed to demonstrate how smart people are actually stupid and also evil. Don’t get me wrong, I know plenty of academics who genuinely do think they know better than anyone else, even whilst displaying embarrassingly shallow and undeveloped thinking in areas outside their specialist areas. In truth, Bloch pretty much nails that here, exposing Korby’s greatest fear as being that people will laugh at his theories. I recognise no few of my peers in that, I must admit; particularly those academics who rail endlessly against “safe spaces” and “intellectual safe zones”. These objections are always disguised as concern their ideas will be dismissed by the ignorant, but in truth it stems from terror that those ideas aren’t actually any good to begin with. It’s this need to believe his ideas should be taken seriously that drives Korby’s treatment of Kirk.

There’s no part of Korby’s plan which requires Kirk be duplicated rather than simply transferred – it is the ultimate goal for everyone, after all. But Korby chooses to keep the original around, because it’s vital to him he be able to persuade Kirk of the wisdom of his plan, and thereby achieve validation. Love might not have survived the transfer, but cupidity clearly has.

So yes. Fair point,. A palpable hit. Still, if this is intended as critique of the academic mindset that I’m supposed to take seriously, it’s a bit of a problem that it’s being offered by a writer who wanted to put together examples of historical figures who wanted to “program people” and plumped for Genghis Khan.

Using Kirk as an authorial mouthpiece here did Bloch no favours. The accusation that academics are obsessed with various forms of “social programming” is a fairly common one, usually made by people desperate to make sure the social programming that’s actually already running is never replaced or even tinkered with. It’s overstatement and misrepresentation and hypocrisy, but I can at least comprehend the structure of it as a position.

Where it completely flies apart here is trying to link the desire for reordering society with some of history’s greatest warmongers.

Including Hitler. Actual blimming Hitler, right here. I mean good lord, man. I get that there are times when we have to repel Godwin’s Law, but is this really the hill on which you want to circle the wagons? Just how terrible do you have to be at politics to hear Korby’s plan and think of national socialism?

This isn’t me defending Korby’s plan, which is legitimately awful. Trying to force everyone into the change will almost certainly lead to interstellar war. It really is the kind of dangerous idea you might expect some academics to play around with whilst ignorant of what it would mean in practice. What it isn’t though is Nazism. It’s religious extremism. More interestingly, its extremism in service to a religion that can scientifically verify all (or most) of its grandest claims. What we might call “Androidism” really can bring eternal life free of pain – something I’ve absolutely no doubt millions of people would grab for the instant they knew about it. It’s not remotely difficult to imagine situations in which someone’s struggle with chronic pain and motility issues were so advanced they might be delighted by the prospect of sacrificing their sexual drive in exchange for leaving all that behind, and that’s before remembering the fact that not everyone is allosexual. By offering the option of becoming an android, Korby genuinely could transform the galaxy for the better. So while his decision that this must be for everyone is an outrageous and indefensible one, the society he wants to build might very well be an attractive one to many. It just needed to be opt-in.

So how the hell can you roll around an idea like that and conclude it resembles the Third Reich? The Nazi goal wasn’t the ending of suffering. It was the cold-blooded application of it on a massive scale. The misery was an end in itself, a power source through which the hideous, festering horrors of Hitler’s regime could continue; a kind of harvesting of pain to keep the lights on for those lucky enough to be allowed access to the switches. There’s simply no parallel to Korby’s goal. As a criticism of the tendency towards smug paternalism in academia, he has at least a little weight. As a criticism of a desire for sweeping social change, he’s a complete failure. The only political conclusion to draw from Korby is that we should ignore Bloch’s political conclusions.

Final Demands

Let’s return to Andrea once more, though, because I still have more to say about her. It’s feels to eleven, right here. Because what chance did she ever have, really? Created to do one thing for one person, and then explicitly denied from doing it for months, or even years. That’s terrible enough before we consider the specifics of being programmed to love someone that doesn’t give the slightest damn about you, until someone new arrives and he wants you to kiss them to prove a point. I mentioned above that “Andrea” can be translated as meaning “wife”, and that’s clearly what she is here, in that most unpleasant, reactionary definition of the term this series gave us last episode: an object with which to impress other men.

Horrible as it is, then, it really isn’t remotely surprising that the script calls for Kirk to sexually assault Andrea. She’s been presented as a thing, and Kirk treats her as such. And while that’s bad enough, it’s not just the supreme ugliness of watching him force Andrea into a kiss that rankles. It’s the knowledge that Kirk is doing it in order to break her. To Ruk, he offers a speech about the necessity of self-preservation (and I do love Kirk’s angle there: ”It is illogical to not kill this fool!”). Andrea gets… well, I’m not even sure what Kirk’s specific plan is here, which somehow manages to makes things worse still. He wants to turn Andrea against Korby, but his choice of method is baffling and appalling.

(Just as is his plan for getting a message to Spock. Of all the out-of-character phrases Kirk could focus on just before duplication, he reaches for a nakedly racist one? Still, I like that Spock gets to call him on this at the end of the episode, essentially pointing out that doing something good doesn’t render you immune from criticism if you do it in a problematic way. This doesn’t stop Kirk doing the same thing at the end of “This Side Of Paradise”, of course, but we’ll come to that in May.)

Anyway, Kirk gets his wish. Andrea is thrown into a new pattern by his attention. In mechanical terms, her need to fulfil her essential function comes into conflict with her hardwired limitations on who she’s permitted to fulfil it with. As a wife, Andrea is faced with the choice of never receiving affection again, or receiving it from someone she isn’t supposed to. So she makes her choice. Her husband pushed her at another man as though she were a particularly impressive statuette to be looked over, appreciated, and put back on its pedestal. And she will have none of it.

Because Andrea is fully aware of the most important idea this episode contains: as the sexual revolution rolled onward, there were still far too many men who assumed having a wife and having a subservient android were the same thing (this comes close to making this read like a desperately needed direct response to “Mudd’s Women”, actually). And up with that, she will not put. She briefly enters into an affair with Kirk, but the instant she thinks he’s going to treat her as badly as Korby has, she shoots him dead. Or thinks she does, anyway, which amounts to the same thing. She believes she’s killing Kirk, and in the process ruining whatever plan Korby had for him. Because nuts to the both of them. It might seem strange that Andrea assumes the Kirk android is actually the original – how did he get his uniform back? Why does he not care that Andrea has seen him walking around unescorted? – but really, what does it matter? Either it’s a comment on how little Korby bothered to fill her in on the specifics of his plan, or it’s a subconscious reaction to realising that having handed her to Kirk, Korby plans to render him inaccessible to her as well.

As mentioned, this simply and entirely will not do. And having killed 50% of all available Kirks, her next step is to burst in on Korby and demand to be heard. She will be listened to. She will be noticed. Her refusal to compromise any further here is glorious. She’s finally concluded that the various directions in which she’s pulled by what’s expected of her will tear her apart, and will tolerate no more. “Survival must cancel out programming!”, as Ruk puts it. That could easily end up being amongst the most profound and subversive ideas the Original Series ever offered us. When the choice is between doing what you’ve been told to or doing what at a bone deep level you need to, the latter is almost always the one that needs to be supported. Certainly that’s the case here, where Andrea rejects Korby’s disinterest, Kirk’s opportunistic fumbling, and the whole sorry state of Star Trek‘s gender politics all in one go. This is nothing short of magnificent. Andrea is made of love and iron and, finally, defiance and rage over what others believe she is supposed to be.

All of which simply adds to the agony when the episode responds to this glorious rebellion by having her killed by Korby, and never spoken of again.

It is this which ultimately torpedoes the episode. Both Christine and Andrea are put through hell here, and both come out with their dignity entirely intact, but “…Made Of?” doesn’t have any interest in recognising that. Instead, Chapel is reset, and Andrea disposed of. All that apparently matters is that Kirk be proved right, and that everyone be able to move on to the next adventure. The female characters here touch upon greatness, but the structure of the franchise at this point requires that this be entirely overlooked. And with feminism – or any other ideology of liberation – to overlook it is to work against it.

In the end, then, for all that there is much here to admire and to build on, we ultimately find ourselves too closely aligned with Spock’s position at the close of the episode. Yes, what’s being expressed here is worthwhile. But could you not have found a less awful way to say it?

[1] Here’s something to fry your noodle: does the Kirk android remember anything that meat-Jim’s forgotten? If so, how can they be exactly the same person? Our experiences have a huge impact on our characters, obviously, and while we don’t have to remember an event in order for it to affect us, I’m sure that suddenly recalling everything I’ve forgotten over my lifetime would change my self-perception and therefore my character. So does the Kirk android come equipped with repressed memories and half-forgotten ideas? What if Kirk had forgotten something at the time of transferal but remembers it later? Would the android ever remember it, and if so, would it have the exact same chances of remembering it?

This is the kind of stuff that stops me from sleeping.

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