Second Union

Second Union


“The more complex the mind, the greater the need for the simplicity of play.”

Gene Roddenberry, early on in the show’s development and pre-production stages, made a case for hiring the best science fiction writers on the market to spin his fables. He craved legitimacy from the “community” and from fans of science fiction. He consulted with technical experts and think tanks like RAND Corporation and Jet Propulsion Laboratories to ground whatever out there ideas he might have in the current science. Sometimes a script came along that threw all the research out the window, and this time, it came from the great Theodore Sturgeon.

To say he was one of the greatest writers of all time would be a massive understatement. Harlan Ellison, who shared a room with him in New York City at one point when both writers were destitute, called him “a great writer of our time.” “Shore Leave” was one of the first examples in Star Trek lore of a script reduced down to one idea (Sturgeon’s idea of a “pleasure planet”) and then heavily re-written during pre-production and then built from the ground up during production. Everyone (and I mean everyone) had a hand in re-writing the script, including Shatner and Nimoy.

The Enterprise encounters an idyllic, Earth-like planet, and already there is talk of shore leave for the weary crew. Kirk sends down McCoy and Sulu for an initial survey. McCoy makes a comment about Alice in Wonderland and this is where the fun begins. From out of nowhere, a ridiculous over-sized (and over-dressed) bunny rabbit appears holding a watch and telling McCoy he is “late.” Late for what? A date? McCoy thinks he’s losing it. So do we. The rabbit is followed by a little blond girl, Alice presumably. Later, Kirk is compelled to join his crew for shore leave and he takes along his beautiful Yeoman Barrows.

Why are Kirk’s Yeoman always hot? Seriously, Barrows is another in a long line of bridge hotties. McCoy shows him the rabbit tracks. They hear gunshots and run toward the danger. Oh, it’s just Sulu. Apparently, he’s a gun nut. In the middle of all of this, Kirk encounters two people from his past: the dangerously aggressive bully Finnegan who beats the hell out of him for sport, and a little girlfriend named Ruth. Kirk doesn’t put it together right away that certain images and objects connect him to buried memories, and that those memories can be collected and manufactured by the planet’s inhabitants.

Barrows thinks of Don Juan and Don Juan appears. She thinks of a flowing dress and a tall hat with a veil, and the dress appears for her. Sulu thinks of a samurai (Oh my!) and a samurai appears. A black knight on a horse charges McCoy, who is convinced none of this can be real. He is impaled with a lance and is killed. Suddenly, what was once a playful exercise becomes a deadly reality, at least until Spock makes the last-minute brilliant deduction that thoughts are being read and items are being manufactured.

When Kirk orders his landing party to stop thinking, a kindly old man, the Caretaker of the planet, appears and tells him none of this was intended to harm the landing party. There is an interesting bit of ambiguity here because we have to wonder why the landing party is thinking about incredibly dangerous things like samurai, tigers, and World War II aircraft. Sulu, by himself, is 100% nightmare fuel! I think the reason “Shore Leave” is such a fun episode is because it feels so slap-dash, written on the spot, and a good share of the dialogue is improvised by the actors.

Star Trek Rewind explores the Star Trek universe. From Archer to Janeway, Kirk to Picard, and Georgiou to Sisko — boldly read what no one has read before!

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