July 3, 2009

"Where No Man Has Gone Before" was the third episode to be broadcast in the first season even though it was filmed before "Man Trap" and "Charlie X." Remnants of the pilot are clearly and, to some extent, embarrassingly visible, with Mr. Spock's elevated angular eyebrows and "loud, crisis voice," velour mock turtle neck uniforms, and the noticeable absence of Dr. McCoy, Mr. Chekov, and Lt. Uhura--even the phasers, especially the phaser rifle that Mr. Spock first wields, look like an archetypal "death ray guns" from a Buck Roger's comic book. Nevertheless, the unique Star Trek "conflict" is fully available to the viewer and developed (multi dimensionally) in the story.
These are the issues as I see them:
1. The Lacanian/Źiźekian "thing from inner space."
2. The Lacanian Real, Symbolic, and Imaginary.
3. The obscene super-ego as god.
The episode begins showing two related disturbances--a chess game and the retrieval of a thing from the void of space. The first disturbance occurs when Kirk, again, beats Spock in a game of chess. His (Kirk's) illogical plays causes Spock to have an "internal" conflict of emotion--he discovers, like the crew members beaming aboard the object, that where there should be nothing, no emotion, for instance, there is something. The conflict with the thing from inner space is further developed when the "object" is brought onboard the Enterprise and determined to contain a partial message. The "object" or recorder-black-box materializes the same way Spocks perturbation appears, without warning from the seeming void of inner-galactic space. This problem of disturbance echoes, like the inter-ship PA system and Mitchell's "voice," throughout the episode as the "thing(s) from inner space," the something where nothing should be, recurs and intrudes in several contexts.
What is the the thing from inner space? It is the impossible central void around which everything is organized. In this sense, the "void" is not some repressed trauma, as it would be for Freud. It is, in fact, nothing. The abyss upon which existence is predicated . . . in a Lacanian sense. Think of how a horror movie functions. The terrifying monster doesn't rise from some expected condition; that is, in bad films, horrifying creatures emerge from black pits that spew smoke and fire or something equally threatening--The Creature from the Black Lagoon. The really scary films, however, show the monster from the unexpected condition, e.g., the alien bursting from an abdomen, a killer from behind a shower curtain, or birds from the sky or a bump on the leg while swimming in a serene ocean. The moment of horror comes when one realizes that there is something where nothing should be. "Where No Man Has Gone Before" introduces this thing from inner space insofar as the real conflict is not external but internal, as we will see.
When the rakish navigator Gary Mitchell, Kirk's "academy buddy," is zapped by some unknown force, he is imbued with super-human, godlike power. Everything associated with this is perfectly predicable--he develops tele-kinetic and super ESP abilities; he has enhanced knowledge and becomes generically powerful. He also becomes evil since absolute power, Kirk observes, corrupts absolutely, as the saying goes. The interesting part, however, is not where all this leads, but where it comes from and how it is, like in "Man Trap," put back in the "bottle."

Let's return to the thing from "inner space." The recorder-object from the Valiant appears in the void of space. Partially present are the "tapes" from the ship's log describing in bits and pieces the demise of the ship. Mr. Spock assembles the fragments and determines that the captain was concerned about ESP (extra sensory perception) and that he issued a "self destruct" order. Luckily, Dr. Elizabeth Dehner, a psychaitrist with ESP abilities and a specialty in crisis behavior, is onboard. She is welcomed by Gary Mitchell with a dismissive reference to a "freezer unit," a.k.a. a dispassionate, sexless, "over-compensating" professional women; certainly not like the mini-skirted "Jones" or "Smith" (doesn't matter, really) that Mitchell holds hands with as the Enterprise is caught in the strange force field barrier separating inner-galactic from outer-galactic space.
Something where nothing should be--this is the point. When the Enterprise enters the barrier the ship's sensors and deflectors are confused--something is both there and not there. After Mitchell is "struck" by the force, the doctor determines that he is in perfect health, absolute perfect health, which means that at one level nothing is there, but that there is something, too--something to explain why there is nothing wrong with him. This harkens back to ESP. Humans can see, hear, touch, taste, and smell (use Axe). In addition, there is purportedly another sense, an extra-sensory sense, e.g. something where nothing should be. Take for instance, an ESP test. I have a card. You cannot see it. No one tells you what it is. You have no way of knowing, by means of the senses, what it is. You call it as a Nine of Clubs. A lucky guess? You call it correctly ten times in a row. How could this be explained? ESP, of course.

Something where nothing should be is "uncanny." Kirk beats Spock in chess. How can this be? It is as if he plays from some unknown source. This first scene echoes throughout the episode as Mitchell gains his powers. Even the "cold" and "sexually dormant" Dr. Dehner becomes sexually aroused by Mitchell and his "superior man" status--his ESP and speed-reading and memorization skills turn her on, as it were.

The thing from inner space brings us closer to the Real. For the most part, we live in (that is, we experience) the Symbolic and the Imaginary. The Real, whatever it is, is there but not fully or even partially available. Kirk's chess playing, the recorder-object, and Mitchell's powers break down the "barrier" (as we first saw in the opening scene) between the Real and the Imaginary and Symbolic. Mitchell's power is not just that he can move cups, create vegetaiton (apples . . . like in the Garden of Eden), or strangle someone from afar. His power is in the fact that he can transcend the Symbolic and the Imaginary or, worse, make the Imaginary the Real--true psychopathology. Before he gets to this point, Kirk, pressured by Spock, must kill him.

When is Mitchell killed? For a number of practical reasons, Kirk doesn't kill him right away. The episode needs to develop a Shatneresque angst and moral conflict. Because of this, Kirk waits too long. And, even as he comes to the decision to kill Mitchell, he can't--he is too powerful. Interestly, however, it is the PSYCHAITRIST, Dr. Dehner, with her latent powers realized, who kills Mitchell by weakening him enough so that Kirk can finally end it. Kirk, of course, prompts her, but it is only after she reflects on her psychiatric training that she decides, calmly and cooly, that he must die. In a sense, just as Charlie X was pure id, Mitchell becomes pure super-ego; that is, the id and the ego become totally consumed by the obscenity of the super-ego--its self-righteous, tyrannical character. Dr. Dehner, almost at full power, since she too was zapped by the force, attacks and manages to exhaust Mitchell. But why? Kirk warns her about "jealous" gods and saving "humanity," but it is after his plea that she think about psychiatry, the "ugly" things that all humans dare not expose, that she seems willing to kill him (Mitchell). Yes, she saves Kirk, but that is almost an after thought. "Morals are for men, not gods" and his demand that Kirk "pray to him" invites a "zap" from Dr. Dehner, which also marks that the Real, under no circumstances, can be made transparently available to the Symbolic/Imaginary. But then, again, there is a twist. In the beginning Dr. Dehner was a human, like Mitchell, with special ESP powers. In the the end, she is a goddess with a fragment of human fraility (selfishness)--it is that "human thing from inner space" (her desire to be goddess alone) that finally causes her to act. In both instances there is a Hegelian return to the human and the necessary condition that the Real be unrepresented.

Mitchell is killed when he is crushed beneath a boulder that fills the grave (abyss) he created for Kirk. The Real as a void is capped and the balanced between the Symbolic and Imaginary is restored once the thing from inner space is covered. Even Dr. Dehner tries to capture the final moral observation when she says, "I'm sorry . . . can't know what it is like to be almost . . . a god." Exactly, can't know what it is like to almost know the Real; which is to say, as a human being you can't (shouldn't) know or that as a human being, caught up in the Symbolic and Imaginary, you just can't (not able) to almost know the Real.

In the end, there are partial things from inner space that we can deal with, such as Spock's "feeling" for Mitchell, and THE thing from inner space we should leave veiled because it is too horrible to face. The most horrible of all is the Real!

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