Second Union

Second Union

STAR TREK REWIND: “The Lorelei Signal”

“You’re more handsome than ever.”

There’s a curious animosity for female characters that seems to come out only with female writers. I’m not implying that male writers are pure in their intentions, but that we would assume women were all on the same team; preaching the virtues of universal suffrage. D.C. Fontana, Margaret Armen (the writer of this episode), and Jean-Lisette Aroeste all wrote either insufferable or unforgivable female characters. Though prominent in their depictions, they were seen as weaker, malleable, or more emotionally manipulative than their male counterparts.

The Enterprise investigates a strange signal — a siren’s call that, Uhura notes, is having a strange effect on all of the men on the ship. Why doesn’t it have an effect on any of the women? Kirk beams down with his all-male landing party. Four episodes in I must say I am enjoying these animated alien backgrounds. The landing party discovers a group of beautiful, nearly identical women (most of them voiced by Majel Barrett and Nichelle Nichols). The landing party is quickly subdued by the women. They all begin to age rapidly and deteriorate.

Uhura takes command of the ship, and orders all-female security groups to beam down to the planet to find the landing party. There were attempts on the live-action series to put Uhura in command. Given her rank and qualifications, it was fairly shocking to see a lowly Ensign (such as Chekov) sitting in the big chair while Uhura continued her regular duties, but Star Trek was ultimately a series that only paid lip-service to male and female parity.

Women were very rarely shown on the original Star Trek as instruments with their own agency. They were pieces to be moved around. They were always in the way, and they engaged only in administrative work. There were only one or two occasions in the 79 episodes that showed women brandishing phasers. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, nor would it require revision. It was a different time. In this episode, Uhura is on top of her game. She picks up on the idea that the women are sapping the life-force out of the men a lot quicker than Spock. Uhura reveals herself to be enormously brave. A far cry from the officer who recoiled in terror at the sight of a Gorn on the viewscreen or confessed to Kirk that she only felt safe knowing he was nearby.

“The Lorelei Signal” is also the first episode we see to demonstrate the “magical” capabilities of the ship’s transporter. This process would later be explored in almost the exact same way with the second season Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, “Unnatural Selection,” wherein Dr. Pulaski was beamed back to the ship using a transporter trace of her original DNA to remove a life-threatening virus from her body. Despite some of the masked hostility for women present throughout the story, this is a great episode.

Twice a week, 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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