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Recap / Star Trek S3 E14 "Whom Gods Destroy"

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Marta (left) and Captain... sorry, Lord Garth (right).

Original air date: January 3, 1969

Spock and Kirk beam down to Elba II to deliver a new miracle drug to a Penal Colony in hopes of curing the patients permanently. Governor Donald Corey greets them warmly, accepts the medicine, strongly insists on them staying for dinner and visiting the poor unfortunates that they have come to cure. An Orion female (Yvonne Craig) insists that she's perfectly sane and that Corey is an imposter. Corey tuts over the poor woman's delusions and shows them the cell of the infamous Garth of Izar...only to find a severely battered Donald Corey in the cell. Suddenly, the screen goes fuzzy and "Boing!" The person they thought was Donald Corey is really the mad captain (LORD!) Garth of Izar!

Garth was once a well respected Fleet Captain, but after being badly maimed in a tragic accident he was saved and taught the art of shapeshifting by the healers of Antos IV. Perhaps due to brain damage in the wreck he decided he was through with his Starfleet career, feeling it was just grubbing away "like some ants on some...somewhat larger than usual anthill." No! He was made for bigger things! He is not a mere captain but a God-Emperor! He is the true Master of the Universe, so sit and spin, He-Man! His only mistake was overestimating the Federation's tolerance for mass genocide.

The inmates are running the asylum! The Big Bad is a shape shifter who makes Mystique look kind and reasonable in comparison! The planet's atmosphere is unbreathable! There's no escape! And Marta plagiarizes Shakespeare!

Whom Tropes Destroy:

  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg: Kirk is shown the downsides of pleading. After a brief Hope Spot where Garth remembers how he was, Kirk gets smacked around and made to kneel more often. Clearly if he can beg once, he can do it again.
  • Amnesiacs are Innocent: At the end of the episode, after being given the new treatment, Garth appears sane again and has also forgotten everything that happened since he went mad.
  • Artistic License – Medicine: Kirk states in his opening log that the Federation hopes the new medicine they are transporting will "eliminate mental illness for all time". Yes, apparently all mental illness will be cured by this one medicine. Never mind that "mental illness" is an umbrella term covering a wide spectrum of disorders, with a variety of different causes.
  • Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!: Quite literal for Marta. She's often shown admiring shiny objects.
  • Authority in Name Only: Garth's title of "Lord" exists only in his own deluded mind.
  • Bad Boss: Garth tells Kirk that he's developed a bomb that could possibly destroy an entire planet. What does Garth do to demonstrate its power? He sends his minion Marta, who he just made his consort, outside the asylum, which has a poisonous atmosphere, and blows her up with a portion of the the explosive that he implanted in her necklace. The explosion is so violent, it shakes The Enterprise, which is in orbit. (The guy was clearly in an insane asylum for a reason...)
  • Bad Liar: Marta was a pathological liar (likely one reason she was in the asylum), going so far as to recite Shakespeare's Sonnet XVIII and claim it was her own work. Not even Garth believes a word she says.
  • Bedlam House: Played with. The colony on Elba II is presumably more advanced than even the best mental health facility in our modern age, yet they still practice a form of shock therapy. (Granted, this episode was written in The '60s.) It is clear that the inmates are regarded as sick and in need of care. And things didn't really go to Hell until the inmates literally took over the asylum.
    • Actually, whatever the Torture Chair was originally meant to do, it was explicitly said to be completely painless until Garth made his "modifications". It may not even have been meant as an analogy to shock therapy.
    • This is more accurate than it seems; electroshock therapy is both still in use and (unless something goes badly wrong, or you've got an incompetent or sadistic doctor) painless. Ideally the procedure should not involve massive painful doses. note 
  • Big "NO!": Garth lets one out when he reverts back to his true form.
  • Broken Pedestal: Seriously, Kirk, what is it with your heroes becoming insane megalomaniacs?
  • Can't Take Criticism: Garth. He becomes anything from mildly annoyed to hysterically angry if you point out anything he did wrong.
  • Captain Obvious: Spock, when he responds to Kirk's claim that they are "brothers" by saying that Kirk is speaking "somewhat figuratively and with undue emotion."
  • Cassandra Truth: Marta feigns being sane. She tells Kirk that Corey isn't who he seems. Just because she's right doesn't mean she isn't crazy!
  • Chekhov's Gun: Garth isn't lying about the explosive he created.
  • Chess Motifs: The prompt for the password for Scotty to override the security shield and beam Kirk up is "Queen to Queen's level three". The password is "Queen to King's level one".
  • Coat Cape: Garth wears his green mink coat this way during the coronation.
  • Complete-the-Quote Title: The episode isn't about people being destroyed, by gods or otherwise. However if you know the entire quote "Whom gods destroy, they first drive mad", you'll see it's a perfect title for an episode about an insane asylum.
  • Complaining About Rescues They Don't Like: "What took you so long?" Kirk says after Spock figures out which Kirk is the real one. He tells Kirk that he perceived it to take longer than it did.
  • Continuity Nod: The healthcare workers uniforms and transporter blocking force field return from the first season's "Dagger of the Mind", set on a similar institution.
    • Crosses over with recycled props, but the chair too is a re-use from that episode. What makes it a potential continuity nod is that when it is first wheeled out, Kirk says he recognises it and knows what it is used for, which given he was put under it the last time it appeared makes perfect sense.
  • Damned by Faint Praise: Garth calls Kirk the second best tactician in Starfleet. He considers himself to be the best.
  • Deadpan Snarker: At first, it seems Spock is just laying out another Vulcan zinger with "She seems to have worked out an infallible method for assuring permanent male fidelity." upon stopping her from stabbing Kirk. Surprise! It was Garth all along!
  • Death Glare: Kirk gives a cold, silent, livid one to Garth after he murders Marta by blowing her up.
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: Of a variation; Garth's explosive, as mentioned above, is so powerful that the Enterprise feels it in orbit. The explosive itself would also cause the name of the trope if more of it were used.
  • Enlightened Self-Interest: Name-dropped by Garth when he tries to convince Kirk and Spock that they should be friends (with the implication that the other option would be "or I kill you").
    Spock: On what, precisely, is our friendship to be based?
    Garth: Upon the firmest of foundations, Mister Spock. Enlightened self interest.
  • Evil Genius: Garth was apparently able to design and build a new doomsday weapon while locked up in an insane asylum on a deserted backwater planet.
  • Fallen Hero: Kirk describes Garth as his personal hero.
  • Famous, Famous, Fictional:
    Garth: All the others before me have failed. Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon, Hitler, Li Kuan, Krotus! All of them are dust! But I will triumph! I will make the ultimate conquest!
  • Femme Fatale: Marta fancies herself this. Kirk submits to some kisses, but the two women he just can't go for are the under-aged and the under-sane.
  • Forced to Watch: Garth uses Cold-Blooded Torture on Governor Corey to make Kirk reveal the password. And forces Kirk to watch Marta be blown up.
  • Green-Skinned Space Babe: Marta, of course. She is the only green space babe Kirk actually kisses or, indeed, has anything to do with.
  • Hair-Trigger Explosive: The madman Garth of Izar has developed an explosive so powerful that a single flask of it could vaporize a planet. It will go off if dropped to the floor.
  • Ham-to-Ham Combat: Kirk vs Garth.
  • Have We Met?: Garth, having newly come out of treatment, says this to Kirk at the end of the episode.
  • Heroic RRoD: Well, maybe not "heroic". Discussed. Spock concludes that Garth is expanding a lot of energy keeping Kirk's form, so he decides to wait it out. It seems Garth doesn't have near the patience of a Vulcan.
  • Human Sacrifice: Garth suggests doing this to Kirk at his coronation. Kirk is not enthused.
  • "I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight: Kirk tries to get Garth to remember the great man he was before his insanity set in. It almost works, too.
  • Idiot Ball: Spock, while trying to determine which "Kirk" is really Garth, asks Kirk a question that Garth could also have known the answer to, and then gives up that line of reasoning altogether rather than asking a very specific question about their past that only the real Kirk could possibly know. Leonard Nimoy objected to this, but the director really wanted to do a fight scene. The other obvious answer gets a nod at the end of the fight, when the real Kirk says to just stun both of them.
  • Insistent Terminology: Captain—"LORD!"—Garth.
  • It Works Better with Bullets: After a jailbreak, Kirk threatens Garth with a phaser stolen from a guard; Garth, who orchestrated the jailbreak in an attempt to learn the Trust Password, reveals that he made sure Kirk got a phaser that wasn't charged.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Garth uses this on Dr. Cory and Kirk in an attempt to learn the transporter code word.
  • Judgment of Solomon: Kirk lampshades the similarity of Spock's choice to this with the episode's final words.
    Mr. Spock, letting yourself be hit on the head—and I presume you let yourself be hit on the head—is not a method King Solomon would have approved.
  • Just Testing You: Garth's excuse to Scotty when he doesn't know the counter password 'Queen to King's level one'.
  • Kill Us Both: Spock is faced with both Kirk and Garth of Izar who was impersonating Kirk. Kirk ordered Spock to shoot them both to prevent Garth from taking over the Enterprise. Spock only shot one. Luckily it was the right one. Subverted in that it's a phaser on stun, which is harmless, and Spock was just going to shoot the winner too since it would logically be the healthy Garth.
  • Kneel Before Zod: Garth demands that all kneel before him. Kneel, I say!
  • Large Ham: Kirk has certainly met his match with "LORD" Garth. Especially whenever Garth transforms into Kirk.
  • Love at First Sight: Marta claims to feel this way about Kirk. If she does love him, it's in an "I want to wear your skin" sort of way.
  • Meaningful Name: Elba II, the isolated planet that is now home to the imprisoned megalomaniac Garth, is named after the island where Napoléon Bonaparte was exiled.
  • Men Are the Expendable Gender: Subverted when LORD!Garth subjects Marta to the big ol' kablooie.
  • Mercy Kill: Garth kills Marta just to prove he can. But, since she's his consort, he'll blow her up instead of letting her suffocate.
  • Mood-Swinger: Garth can go from Affably Evil to Unstoppable Rage at the drop of a hat.
  • Moral Myopia: Garth alleges that he was treated terribly. As pointed out by Spock, not only was he treated fairly, but also he failed to treat any of his intended victims compassionately.
  • No, Mr. Bond, I Expect You to Dine: When Garth first invites Kirk and Spock to dinner, it seems friendly, since he's borrowed the guise of Donald Corey. Then he forces the invitation at gunpoint.
  • Noodle Incident: Garth fought at the Battle of Axanar, which was so important that his tactics became required reading at Starfleet Academy. Too bad nothing about it has been officially revealed.
  • Overly Narrow Superlative: Marta declares that she is the most beautiful woman on the planet. Garth bluntly reminds her that she's the only woman on the planet.
  • The Paragon Always Rebels: Kirk describes Garth as the Federation's greatest warrior, and he was seemingly Starfleet's most legendary captain until his newly acquired abilities drove him mad with power.
  • Please Spare Him, My Liege!: Kirk is reluctant to recognize Garth's claim to be a king, however, he will play with his ego to make him let an innocent man go.
  • Plagiarism in Fiction: Briefly played as a joke. After Garth takes over the asylum, he has the other patients put on a show. Another patient, Marta, agrees to perform a sonnet she claims to have written that morning. A minute into her performance, Garth jumps out of his chair yelling "You wrote that?" He points out that it was actually written by William Shakespeare. She admits that he wrote it and says she wrote it again that morning. Later in the episode, she recites another poem; although nobody bothers to point it out this time, it's equally unoriginal, being the first stanza of one of A. E. Housman's Last Poems.
  • Playing Sick: Spock pretends to be passed out when Garth's two minions come to collect him. This gives him the opportunity to neck pinch both of them.
  • Psychopathic Man Child: When Garth doesn't get what he wants, he kicks and pounds the floor like an angry child. The other inmates are somewhat more subdued versions, having a fondness for wheelbarrow races. (Cut from the remastered episode, unfortunately.)
  • Sanity Has Advantages: The fact that Garth was a madman and both Kirk and Spock were sane was clearly the two protagonist's biggest advantage here. The fact that the villain flew into a rage on more than one occasion when he was frustrated (such as when he realized he needed to know a countersign in order to board The Enterprise) showed that his madness was hindering him greatly. Garth's attempt to intimidate Kirk by murdering his lover with the super-powerful bomb he created does nothing more than prove to Kirk - and the viewers, most likely - that he's a lunatic, and when he thinks he'll have more luck with Spock due to Spock being a "very logical man", Spock's logical thinking is, in fact, what leads to Garth's final defeat.
  • Sapping the Shapeshifter: While Garth is impersonating Kirk, both Kirk and Garth/Kirk are held at phaser-point by Spock, who points out that Garth is undoubtedly spending a great deal of energy to maintain Kirk's form and that he can't do so indefinitely, so all he has to do is wait. Naturally, Kirk and Garth start fighting, so Spock has to take another route to determine which is the real Kirk.
  • Shapeshifter Default Form: Garth is a human being who learned the ability to shape change. His default shape is his original (humanoid) body.
  • Shapeshifting: Garth of Izar. After an accident left him badly maimed, the gentle beings of Antos IV nursed him in his darkest hour, and gifted him with their technique of cellular metamorphosis to repair his mangled body. With Great Power Comes Great Insanity.
  • Shapeshifting Sound: Whenever Garth of Izar shapechanges to another form, the change is accompanied by an odd metallic "wobbling" sound effect.
  • Shell Game: Garth shape changes into the form of Captain Kirk and fights him, so neither the audience nor Spock know which one is which.
  • Shout-Out: Marta's first poem is, as Garth points out, identical to a well-known Shakespearean sonnet. (See Plagiarism in Fiction above.)
  • Sissy Villain: Garth wears a dark green mink coat over a purple jacket with glittery highlights. A presumed insane Andorian wears a fluffy pink boa. WHAT ARE THEY INSINUATING?
  • Smurfette Principle: Except for Marta, all the other dozen or so inmates are male. Perhaps they believe insanity primarily affects men?
    • Fridge Horror if you think about this too much. Maybe Marta is okay with this. Gene previously indicated that Orion women were insatiable.
  • Some Kind of Force Field: All the cells in the asylum have invisible forcefields on the doors, indicated by lights set in the doorframes that light up when the field is active. Spock provides the obligatory moment of poking the air to elicit a temporary glowing effect and demonstrate the field's existence.
  • Spot the Imposter: Near the end, Spock has to determine which "Captain Kirk" is the real thing and which one is Garth. He decides that the one who orders his own sacrifice for the safety of the Enterprise must be his Captain.
  • Stock Footage: Footage of the Enterprise firing phasers down to the surface of a planet is reused from "Who Mourns for Adonais?"
  • Take Over the World: Garth's goal is to take over the universe.
  • Teleport Interdiction: Kirk and Spock aren't getting out of this that easily! Security force fields must be deactivated to allow beaming up or down.
  • That Wasn't a Request: Garth asks Marta to dance for the benefit of Kirk and co. Marta clearly doesn’t want to, leading Garth to clarify that he wasn’t merely requesting it of her.
  • Trust Password: When Garth atttempts to beam up to the Enterprise in the form of Kirk, he learns that Kirk, presumably foreseeing the possibility of a break-out attempt by one of the inmates, set up a sign and countersign. The rest of the episode is him trying to get Kirk to reveal the countersign.
  • Underage Casting: Fleet Captain Garth of Izar, whose exploits were studied by Kirk at the academy, is played by a 34-year-old actor. Steve Ihnat was in fact younger than William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. This may be a result of the Antos IV aliens rebuilding him.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: After the pacifist natives on Antos IV saved his life, Garth offered them power in gratitude. When they turned it down, he ordered the destruction of their world. His crew promptly removed him from command and he was placed in psychiatric care.