Star Trek celebrated its fiftieth anniversary this month. So, here on Redeeming Culture, we’re going to release a short review of every episode of Season One, one episode per day, all month long; for each episode, we’re writing a 3-sentence recap, a 3-word review, and (as much as we can) answering the questions “What fears or hopes are conquered or realized?” and “How does this point to Jesus or to the way God made us?”
For more about Trektember, read our preview post. Please note that there are minor plot spoilers for this episode below.
Today’s episode is number 16: Shore Leave.
Kirk’s crew is investigating a lush, verdant, but uninhabited paradise of a world in hopes that it will make a good destination for the crew to have shore leave. They even manage to trick the captain himself into coming down for some rest and relaxation. But then McCoy sees a gigantic talking rabbit with a pocketwatch – and things get weirder from there.
Playful but disjointed.
Big Sci-Fi Concepts
- The idea of getting everything you imagine is not only common to science fiction, it is also common to Star Trek, having appeared as a plot point in at least one episode of almost every series.
- Apparent perfection with a dark side has been a theme in science fiction pretty much since science fiction has been around.
Fears Conquered/Hopes Realized
- This episode deals more overtly with the conquering of fears and the realization of hopes than any episode we’ve seen so far. There are many which resonate with people both now and at the time the show was released (McCoy’s desire to save a princess, Kirk’s fear that he’s ineffective against bullies, etc). The planet is explicitly designed for this, both in-universe and out-of-universe.
What does this episode tell us about God or about man?
This is interesting. First two court-martial episodes in a row (“Court Martial” and “The Menagerie”), now two “illusion planet” episodes in a row (“The Menagerie” and “Shore Leave”). But this time, instead of entrapment, the goal of the illusions is for the crew to have their wishes fulfilled.
This starts off innocuous enough, with “Alice In Wonderland” and a renaissance costume change. But when Finnegan lays Kirk out with a punch, we see that these fulfilled wishes are far from just figments of imagination. Danger awaits around every corner; each stray thought could result in a gory, painful death. The desires of each crewman are given indiscriminately, from tigers to murderous knights.
It’s unclear what message this episode is aiming for (largely due to Gene Roddenberry’s reported on-set rewrite of the episode as it was being filmed), but if I were to take a stab at a message, it would be “be careful what you wish for.” Our thoughts and desires can be dangerous.
I’m not talking about magical technology turning your offhand thoughts about samurai into real murderous robots. I’m talking about our desire for sinful pleasures turning into temptation, and then into sin. In 2 Corinthians 10:5, Paul warns us to “take every thought captive;” Jesus even goes so far as to tell us to remove any sinful parts of our bodies in Matthew 5:27-30.
He’s not being hyperbolic. Sin is that dangerous. It seeks to kill us. But before you pull out the meat cleaver, think about this: it’s not your hand or eye that causes you to sin. Jesus clarifies this in Mark 7.
For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.
(Mark 7:21-23 ESV, emphasis added)
The Bible goes a step further in the book of Jeremiah:
The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it?
Kirk’s best solution when faced with the combined imaginations of his crew is to order them to stop thinking, but is that really a viable long-term solution? Of course not. And in our lives, our hearts would kill us given half a chance. Our imaginations are dangerous. And since the heart is what causes us to sin, that’s what needs to be removed.
Thankfully, for the Christian, God has already done that. He has “removed our heart of stone, and given us a heart of flesh.” You can put your knives down.
So how does that help us on this bizarro planet where our imaginations and fears torment us incessantly?
God gives us a little guidance in Psalm 37:4, in a verse that sounds like it would have fit in well on the Shore Leave world. “Delight yourself in the Lord,” He says, “and He will give you the desires of your heart.” But remember, that heart is a new, refreshed, redeemed heart given by God; above all else, its desire is for God Himself.
So, delight yourself in Him, and the wish for Him will be perfectly fulfilled. It’s perfect, it’s what we need, and it’s the way God has chosen to open up His universe to us.
No fancy dress or samurai sword required.
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Thank you for reading Redeeming Culture! Come back tomorrow for more Trektember as we look at episode 17 of Star Trek: “The Squire of Gothos”.