I’ve seen some complaints about the fourth episode of STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS season two, “Among the Lotus Eaters,” that have left me scratching my head. Several people are focusing on Spock becoming Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory or that the episode bent over backwards to make Ortegas be the only one able to save the day. One person even complained to me that, in order to make Ortegas (a woman) seem more heroic and strong, the only other male left in the chain of command (Spock) has to be treated like a complete idiot.
And I’m, like, what the hell are you talking about???
I thought this was actually a fairly decent episode with a very TOS flavor. It wasn’t their best of the series or even of the season, but in my personal opinion, this episode held its own pretty well. And for me, this episode WAS personal—very personal. Two weeks ago, I discussed the struggles and challenges that a transgendered friend of mine faced both before and during her transition. This week, however, the theme of episode hit much closer to home for me. You see, my 90-year-old father has Alzheimer’s.
In case anyone didn’t notice, that was the likely “metaphor” of this latest episode, named for a short passage from Homer’s The Odyssey where Odysseus and his men encounter the island of the Lotus Eaters. During their long and arduous journey home, Odysseus and his men had just barely survived a grueling battle where several soldiers were lost. After nine days in rough seas, they stop briefly on an island to rest and replenish supplies.
Odysseus sends two of his men to explore the island, and they encounter the Lotus Eaters, peaceful natives who live on the fruit of the lotus tree. As soon as the two men take a bite of the fruit, they forget everything—all of their struggles on their long journey home, the gods’ curse, even their very identities. All they want to do is stay on the island eating more lotus fruit. But Odysseus needs them, forces them back onto the boats, straps them to their oars (nice guy, huh), and makes everyone hightail it out of there.
Homer was probably comparing the Lotus Eaters to drug addicts who would forget who they were, their families, their jobs, everything, and just want to spend each day getting high. (Yes, there were drug addicts 27 centuries ago. In fact, archaeological records show drug use of psychotropic plants in ancient civilizations, dating as far back as early hominid species about 200 million years ago!)
However, the writers of this latest episode of SNW didn’t seem to be telling the story of drug addiction so much as the loss of memory and identity and what makes someone who they truly are. And that’s my it made me think of my father…
THE MEMORY THIEF
Please forgive me veering off the topic of an episode review for a bit, but I wanted to take a moment to discuss a man I’ve known all of my life who now barely knows me: my father, Arthur Lane. If you don’t care to read all the personal stuff, feel free to skip and scroll down to the next section.
My father wasn’t a “great” man in that he didn’t make any huge scientific breakthroughs or invent or discover something that changed the world. He didn’t save lives in a hospital or run into burning buildings. He wasn’t the founder or CEO of a major corporation. His father owned a movie theater in Washington Heights during most of the Great Depression and started a business delivering film canisters to other theaters…nothing that’ll get you into the Fortune 500. A corporal during the Korean War, my father was assigned to Governor’s Island in New York Harbor and never saw any combat. He never worked in government or civil service. Arthur Lane was just an average guy from an average family. So no, not a “great” man.
But most definitely, a GOOD man.
To this day, my father remains “one of the nicest, sweetest people you will ever meet.” I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard people describe him this way. And his father and three brothers were the same way. Just really nice men who hated to disappoint anyone. In fact, that’s one of the reasons that I exist! Back in 1964, my parents had been dating a for a few months, and my dad said to my mother, “Dedee, I think I want to take our relationship to the next step.” My mother shrieked, “YES!!! Oh, yes, I would love to marry you!!!” Years later, Mom discovered that Dad had only meant to suggest going steady and no longer dating other people. But Mom seemed so excited and happy that he didn’t want to disappoint her. They were married in June of 1965 and just celebrated their 58th anniversary!
While my dad didn’t do “great” things, he (along with my mom) raised two boys to become good and decent men, husbands and fathers themselves, all the while working hard to make a comfortable life for his family. Each weekday, though all kinds of New York City weather from nice days to blizzards to sweltering hot to pouring rain, Dad would walk the eight blocks to the Lexington Avenue subway, sit or stand in a crowded train car for half the length of the island of Manhattan, and work 9-to-5 as a stock broker on Wall Street. He didn’t have a corner office—or any office. He sat at a desk in a crowded, noisy room with dozens of other brokers making countless calls to clients, analyzing trends, and placing trades. Not back-breaking work, to be sure, but in my mind, totally soul-crushing with its repetitive monotony…as I can attest from the few super-boring days that Dad took me to work with him!
When Dad retired, he and Mom moved to La Jolla, California, a suburb of San Diego, and lived there for about 15 years before moving again to much-cheaper Boulder, Colorado. It was there, about six years ago, that I joined my parents and brother at a neurologist appointment where we were all told the diagnosis together: Dad was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. Things wouldn’t get really noticeable for a few more years, the doctor told us, and some medicines might help delay things for a bit. But this was the time to start planning for elder care, as Dad would very likely be needing it sooner or later. My grandfather and two of my father’s brothers developed Alzheimer’s in their 80s and 90s. Good news/bad news, I suppose—Lanes live long but aren’t really aware enough to appreciate it toward the end.
For Dad, the first thing that began to go were words. About three years ago, it started becoming difficult for Dad to finish sentences. He’d start them just fine, but then about halfway through, he’d struggle for a word and just not be able to complete his thought, even though it was obvious that he knew what he wanted to say.
As the years went by, Dad began to forget my name, my son Jayden’s name, and the names of my brother and his children and both daughters-in-law, although he still recognized us. Now, that recognition is beginning to fade, too. In fact, the morning before I watched “Among the Lotus Eaters,” my mom told me that she and a friend were discussing San Diego, and my father asked, “What’s San Diego?”
One of the things that “Among the Lotus Eaters” conveyed was that this amnesia that the crew was experiencing took away their memory of facts like who they were but not of deep-seeded aspects of their core selves. And that is true of my dad. He is still the kindest, sweetest man you’d ever want to meet. Even though he can no longer do things for himself like bathe, shave, get dressed, go to the bathroom, or swallow his pills without help, he happily allows my mom and his home-care worker to assist him. He smiles as he does puzzles and plays Connect Four and sits and watches as my mother tutors kids in reading each day via Skype.
Dad’s father was the same way toward the end. I remember once, shortly before Grandpa Moe’s death at the age of 94, my brother and I went to visit him at his home on Central Park West (unbeknownst to me at the time, my grandparents lived in the same building as LEONARD NIMOY!). Grandpa was sitting on the sofa, and my grandmother brought in my brother David and mea and said, “Moe? Look who came to visit. Do you know who this is?”
My grandfather had known David and me for nearly two decades each, watched us grow up, seen us at countless family gatherings, dinners, visits to each other’s homes, etc. The man I saw sitting there showed no hint of recognition whatsoever. We were complete strangers to him. But I’ll never forget what I heard him say next because it was so much who my grandfather was and always had been: “It’s a couple of good-lookin’ guys!” The man never had a critical word to say about anyone or anything, and not knowing who we were, decided to pay us a compliment. Man, I miss him.
I saw hints of my father’s “true self” as well back in February when I visited Boulder for a week after my mother had a stroke (she’s doing okay now). With Dad now barely able to get two or three words out before his sentences collapse, at this point, you don’t really talk with him so much as talk at him. Much of the time, I just sat with him while he watched MSNBC. But a few times, I showed him how I day-traded the stock market (I dabble). This is something fairly recent for me, and I never understood what my dad did as a stock broker while he was still doing it. But as I plotted trends on the chart and drew lines of support and resistance on my laptop, I showed Dad what I was doing. I made a few options trades while he watched. Dad became very engaged and began asking questions and making suggestions…in almost full sentences! When Mom came upstairs and said, “Jonathan, I don’t think your dad is interested in watching you day-trade,” Dad cut in, “No, I’m very interested!” Full sentence!
Dad spent the rest of the visit asking how I did in the market that day, and he still asks when we Skype each week.
So when I saw Pike and Ortegas becoming their “true selves” for flashes of time, just long enough to mount an incursion into the castle and/or fly the ship out of danger, I thought of my Dad watching me day-trade…and I smiled.
OKAY, BACK TO THE REVIEW…FIRST UP: PIKE
Welcome back, ANSON MOUNT! After three episodes almost completely sans Anson (Sanson?) so the new daddy could get to spend some time with baby CLOVER, Captain Pike got an episode in the spotlight in a big way, as Pike was the main focus of the A-story. As long-time fans know, Rigel VII was the location of the first of the Talosian mindscape hallucinations that Pike was taken to after his capture in the first pilot “The Cage.” We didn’t learn much about the planet other than Pike lost crew members there because of his own mistakes and that there was a big barbarian-looking guy there known as the Kalar.
This episode filled in a lot of the backstory without tripping over any significant canon, which is always a plus with new-era Star Trek. It was also interesting to watch, as we see Pike quickly lose his memory but hold onto aspects of his true self. M’Benga and La’an had much smaller supporting roles to play than they did previously in the season when they were each spotlighted, but their fighting prowess and durability was again underscored. We haven’t really seen a doctor in Star Trek before who could be relied on to be tough in a fight. Can you imagine Phlox holding his own in a bar room brawl?
I’ve heard/read few complaints about the Pike A-story, but there were some that people have mentioned. The first is that Pike’s girlfriend has gotten almost no character development so far, and this episode didn’t do much to remedy that. We’ve seen Captain Batel 4 times so far in 14 episodes, and we still haven’t even heard Pike call her by her first name. (I think it’s Marie.) That said, they have the ultimate long-distance relationship, and the only Star Trek series captains we’ve ever seen succeed in a long-term committed relationships (Sisko, Riker, and maybe Burnham) had the benefit of their significant other being based on the same starship or space station.
I’m certain we’ll see and learn more of Captain Batel of the U.S.S. Cayuga (one of the six nations of the Iroquois Confederacy and the finger lake next to the university where I spent my college years!) in upcoming episodes. But remember that this was a story much more about Pike than Batel. Their relationship (and his clumsy attempt to end it) was a plot tool to show a character arc for Pike during the course of the episode.
The other two complaints about the A-story were the use of the AR wall to create a planet that looked a little fake and the character of Zac (the forgotten yeoman) was pretty flat and one-note. As for the planet looking fake…folks, unless they shoot on location, Star Trek planets look fake because they are. We never complained about it in TOS or TNG. Don’t start complaining now. The AR wall is awesome, and if we’d had planets that had looked this good back in the 1960’s we’d NEVER have complained!
As for Zac, well, I’ll give you that one. He was kind of a villain and kind of just a plot device to get Pike and company out of the castle so they could forget. In the end, he was just sorta pathetic and a good example of why we should take the Prime Directive so seriously. You don’t give energy weapons to a race barely beyond stone knives and bearskins! But I don’t need to see Zac again.
The one thing that no one seemed to have complained about was Tony Award-winner REED BIRNEY’s performance as Luq, the worker who helps Pike. His character represented the moral question that infuses the best of Star Trek’s stories. In this case, the question was whether it’s better to just forget everything including pain and tragedy (as many drug addicts try to do) or remember that which haunts you, knowing that those agonizing memories come from places of love. Personally, I prefer the memories.
SO YOU SAY THAT YOU FLY THE SHIP?
When it came to Ortegas’ B-story, fans seemed to be thrilled that actress MELISSA NAVIA finally got a chance to shine in her role on the show. That said, they felt a little cheated that all she really got to do was the same old thing. Here was Ortegas, all ready to beam down and “party,” but her big chance was taken away at the last second, and she winds up having to stay aboard and fly the ship. That is, after all, her job. On the other hand, Sulu got to show that he was interested in botany, guns, fencing and swordplay, and even martial arts. So yes, Ortegas wasn’t given a lot to do other than make wise-cracks and (as I and she said multiple times) fly the ship.
But in so doing, Ortegas’ character was, in fact, developed. We now know how badly she wants to get out of that pilot’s chair, and we’ve also seen that her true core self is a very strong, very capable woman with significantly impressive skills. Personally, my only real complaint (not that it’s much of one) is that Ortegas isn’t the only pilot on the ship. Unless she doesn’t sleep, she can’t be. As such, all capable pilots should have been assigned to the bridge to take over as soon as any one showed signs of memory loss. The fact that Ortegas was there alone on the bridge with Spock bothered me…although maybe she was the last pilot with an intact memory? Or maybe they just didn’t want to crowd the scene with extras. In the end, it didn’t bother me much.
SPOCK IS SHELDON COOPER
Here was the biggest complaint I encountered about the episode: Spock is turning into comedy relief!!!
Some fans are up in arms because the Spock they know and love was never a socially-awkward nerd, seemingly clueless to even the most obvious social cues. One comment I read pointed out that, even though Spock is half-human, he was raised by a human mother who must have prepared him for social interactions with those from his human heritage. And if you look at the Spock of TOS just seven years later, he’s almost a completely different character. No one “grows” that much as a person in just seven years, they scream!
Okay, my turn to talk now?
I totally understand what the writers are trying to do, and I definitely appreciate it. And what are they trying to do? Make Spock INTERESTING, that’s what! We all know who Spock becomes. Leonard Nimoy perfected the fan-favorite character. But why do we need to see more of the same? If ETHAN PECK’s Spock came to the Enterprise with the same confidence and poise as Leonard Nimoy’s Spock, then where does Peck’s character have to go? We’d just watch the same old Spock do the same old things. He’d be a plot tool much more than a character worth watching.
Instead, the writers have given Spock a “starting point.” Now, is this Spock more socially awkward than we would expect a Vulcan/human hybrid raised by a human mother would be? Only if you assume Amanda raised Spock that way. It’s possible that, to help her son better fit in with Vulcan culture, Amanda avoided exposing Spock (or his adopted older sister) to human values and social skills. Such a dichotomy might only confuse young Spock and make it more difficult to become accepted into Vulcan society. That’s my assumption, at least.
And if so, then this “Sheldon Cooper” Spock makes perfect sense. And indeed, as a viewer, I root for his development and advancement the same way I rooted for Data in the early seasons of TNG. Both characters have been given room to grow, and I welcome that. You should, too.
Now, if you’re still cringing about Spock being played for mostly comedy relief and getting scolded by other characters like Ortegas (who is, I should point out, the same rank as Spock), I say again: remember Data. He was likewise played mainly for comedy, often getting scolded (remember when he pushed Beverly over the side of the sailing ship in Generations?). But then you had episodes like “The Measure of a Man,” “The Most Toys,” and “The Offspring.” Give the writers a chance to play with Spock a little, and I am confident he will get his opportunity to have a serious story soon enough. Remember, we are still only 14 episodes into this new series!