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Recap / Star Trek S3 E10 "Plato's Stepchildren"

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Philana either not noticing or not caring about the "I hate you all" look on Alexander's face.

Original air date: November 22, 1968

You guys have been looking forward to this, haven't you?

This episode was absolutely crazy, packed with zany antics and veering from serious to silly in a heartbeat. It is second only to "Spock's Brain" as a perfect example of the Seasonal Rot Star Trek started to show in the third season.

And yet, it is also a landmark episode, not just of Star Trek but of American television, as it is one of the very first times (and, depending on how you tally it, possibly the first time) a black woman and white man were shown kissing on broadcast network television. Even though Aliens Made Them Do It.

The ep starts with our Trio beaming down to Platonius to answer a distress call. They are greeted by a giant shadow, but before you can say "Be vewy quiet", they find the owner of the shadow is a dwarf called Alexander. It seems Parmen, the leader of the Platonians, has suffered a severe infection from a simple paper cut and is near death. Bones treats him. It is soon learned that the Platonians have many abilities. Their gift of telekinesis, extending as far as the orbiting Enterprise is the most obvious. They also have incredible longevity and mental capacity. Unfortunately, they have very weak immune systems, small wounds becoming infectious very quickly. They tell Bones that they would like him to stay. Bones respectfully declines, only to learn that this was not an invitation. The Platonians are going to keep Bones with them and will make a puppet show with his friends until he agrees to stay.


The bulk of this episode is of the Platonians forcing Kirk, Spock, Uhura and Chapel to perform for their benefit. Did you find this episode amusing? You Bastard!! You're no better than the Platonians!

Plato's Tropes:

  • Aliens Made Them Do It: How Kirk and Uhura's kiss was justified to the network.
  • Ancient Astronauts: The Platonians so admired classical Greek culture that they adopted it as their own, down to naming the home planet after the philosopher, Plato. And cue the Title Drop!
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Chapel has been longing to kiss Spock for so long; but the thought of being forced to do it makes her sick.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Inverted. The Human Aliens are sadistic sociopaths, while their dwarfish servant proves himself a man of honor.
  • Big Shadow, Little Creature: When Kirk and co. first arrive, they're greeted by a booming voice and an enormous looming shadow (and a dramatic musical sting). Then Alexander steps forward and reveals his actual size.
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  • Censor Decoy: The script called for Uhura and Kirk to kiss (the first scripted, onscreen, interracial kiss on TV at the time), but the network called for the scene to be filmed with and without the kiss, to decide later which to use. William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols deliberately ruined every take of the non-kiss scene, making the version with the kiss the best option. Which becomes even more impressive if you read their autobiographies, where it becomes clear this is the only thing they've ever agreed on.
  • Chew Toy: Alexander is treated like one by the other Platonians because he's small and without telekinesis.
  • Cruel Mercy: The Platonians' fate, in a way. With Alexander gone they can't torture people anymore, and that was the only thing which gave their lives meaning. Meanwhile, the rest of the Galaxy now knows where they live and what they have done, does not approve, and is capable of turning their own powers against them.
  • Crystal Spires and Togas: No room in the budget for crystal spires, but plenty of togas!
  • Death Glare: When Kirk plants one on Uhura, Kirk gives the Platonians a look that says "How dare you force me to kiss this beautiful woman!"
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The Platonians are nothing more than schoolyard bullies with psychic powers. Alexander's epiphany speech really sells it.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Alexander has really had it with the way the Platonians treat him.
  • Empowered Badass Normal: Kirk along with Spock gain telekinesis from the local food, though only Kirk explicitly demonstrates it.
  • Enslaved Tongue: Parmen telekinetically controls the Enterprise crew, forcing them into humiliating performances such as dancing, singing, and reciting poetry.
  • The Fair Folk: The Platonians fit this to a T. They are convinced that they are a Superior Species and make everyone they interact with act like it, too, but in fact are ruled entirely by caprice, and take delight in torturing others, and punish all who dare call them on it.
  • Faux Affably Evil: For all of Parmen's formality, he's just a sadistic sociopath. When Kirk and Spock finally get the jump on him, he breaks down and promises not to be an asshole anymore, which Kirk doesn't buy.
  • Forgotten Phlebotinum: Telekinesis seems pretty handy; you might think people would start taking Kironide supplements on a regular basis. Yet somehow we never see it again. It's implied that With Great Power Comes Great Insanity.
  • Gilded Cage: Not for the first time, Bones is offered one. Not for the first time, he turns it down.
  • A Glass in the Hand: While trying to claim he's in control and not angry about being humiliated by the Platonians, Spock crushes a goblet into powder.
  • Go-Go Enslavement: The usual genders are inverted, as Uhura and Chapel have floor length dresses, while Kirk and Spock get short tunics. Kirk gets it the worst, as his tunic just about covers the important bits.
  • Hypocritical Heartwarming: For all the times Bones has scolded Spock for being unemotional, he's the first to protest when the Platonians use their powers to force a show of emotion out of Spock.
  • If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him!: Alexander finally has Parmen at knife point and has a more powerful telekinetic on his side. He begs Kirk for the opportunity to kill Parmen. Kirk responds "Do you want to be like him?" Alexander tosses the knife away and expresses his contempt for the Platonians.
  • I Just Want to Be Free: In the end, Alexander is given his wish when Kirk agrees to take him away from Platonius aboard the Enterprise.
  • Involuntary Dance: Spock's Flamenco, and the skipping duet he does with Kirk that's one big Shout-Out to Alice in Wonderland.
  • Kissing Under the Influence: As part of their sadistic puppet show, Kirk is forced to kiss Uhura while a make out session with Chapel and Spock is also played out.
  • Large Ham: Shatner at his best.
  • Malfunction Malady: Parmen is sick, and since he, like almost all Platonians, has telekinetic powers, he makes furniture fly around as if there was a hurricane while in a fit of feverish delirium.
  • Meaningful Name: "Alexander" means "helper of men". He even introduces himself as "Alexander, at your service." Alexander gives Kirk and his men the info they need to beat the Platonians.
  • Might Makes Right: Parmen holds his position as "philosopher-king" of Platonius by dint of being its most powerful psychokinetic (which he thinks makes it "the most democratic society conceivable"). He believes this is because his mind is more powerful than the others; in reality, his body is just better at absorbing kironide, as Kirk and Spock go on to prove when McCoy gives them both enough to have double his power.
  • Mind Rape: Used by the Platonians, with the most blatant example being Parmen forcing Spock to laugh and cry.
  • Mood Whiplash: Spock goes from uncontrollable laughter to uncontrollable crying on the whim of the Platonians. Kirk is having a serious conversation with Alexander on the nature of equality when he suddenly spins about like a top. The seemingly silly situations are actually quite serious when you realize they are being manipulated by this week's Sufficiently Advanced Aliens.
  • OOC Is Serious Business: After being cruelly manipulated by the Platonians, Kirk and Spock are allowed to rest. Spock is battling with his terror that he had almost seriously hurt his captain and friend against his will, and his hatred towards the Platonians for their horrific manipulations including forcing emotion out of the proudly logical Vulcan. He asks if Kirk feels the same; Kirk agrees, to which Spock replies that they must both master their emotions for the further torment which is sure to come, even as he picks up a chalice and crushes it effortlessly.
  • People Puppets: Uhura describes the experience as "It was like becoming someone's puppet."
  • Playing with Puppets: The Platonians use their telekinetic powers to make the Enterprise crew members act in absurd and humiliating ways.
  • Please Spare Him, My Liege!: Bones begs Parmen to stop this travesty.
  • Power Incontinence: Parmen experiences this when feverish.
  • Really 700 Years Old: Actually, Philana and Parmen are closer to 2300 years old; they were married at the youthful ages of 117 and 128 respectively.
  • Royal Brat: All of the Platonians. Thousands of years of doing nothing has made them insufferable brats who treat others like playthings.
  • Sacred Hospitality: Ironically for a species which idolizes Plato, the Platonians seem to avert this trope. Unless, of course, their view of treating guests well is to enslave them.
  • Shout-Out: At one point Alexander does the chant from Frogs by Aristophanes.
    Alexander: Brekekekéx!
    • The problem with that bit is that it's played slow and dignified, and with a mistake in the lyrics to boot. It's not "Great Pan sounds his horn," it's "Great Pan nods his horn." And the whole chant was supposed to be loud and crazymaking, as the frogs were trying to drive Dionysus batty.
  • Shut Up, Kirk!: Fairly brutally, as Kirk tries to push McCoy into not giving in, and the Platonians swap it out for accepting slavery, and later he tries to support a crying Spock, and they force him to act like a horse instead.
  • Somewhere, an Equestrian Is Crying: At one point, the Platonians force Alexander and Kirk to play "Horsey". Kirk makes a noise that sounds more like a turkey being tickled than a neigh. Sad thing is, Shatner is an accomplished equestrian who should know better. Although since this was something he was being forced to do, it's highly likely it came from the Platonians' knowledge of horses, not Kirk's, which after 2,000+ years away from Earth is... surely quite limited.
    • In his biography Shatner: Where No Man, Shat spoke about the effort he put into making his performance serious.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Alexander gets to give one to Parmen at the end:
    Alexander: Parmen, listen to me. I could have had your power, but I didn't want it. I could have had your place right now, but the sight of you and your Academicians sickens me. Despite your brains, you're the most contemptible things that ever lived in this universe.
  • Torture Porn: Kirk, Spock, Uhura and Chapel are forced to humiliate themselves for the majority of the episode, and the actors play the scenes where they talk about how violated they feel as very quiet.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: So this is what Parmen and his friends do to our heroes after Bones saves his life?
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: The Platonian lifestyle is of course based on what was recorded in Plato's The Republic; establishment and survival of the perfect state requires autocratic rule by philosopher-kings bred from a system of eugenics. So what if the result is a bunch of spoiled brats who don't know how to properly treat anyone different from them?
  • Variant Chess: The Platonians play chess with oversized pieces, moving them either by telekinesis or getting Alexander to do it.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: The Platonians have no immune system, so even the slightest cut can kill them. So much for being a superior species, eh?
  • Whip It Good: After they get tired of watching them kiss, the Platonians decide they want to watch Kirk whip Uhura.