by Jeff Bond
Packed with intriguing ideas and at least one bit of iconic Trek lore, “Is There In Truth No Beauty?” still suffers from many of the vices of the show’s third season, not the least of which is its occasionally prehistoric attitude toward women. Diana Muldaur makes her second Trek appearance, this time as Dr. Miranda Jones, a telepath preparing to accompany a shapeless alien ambassador to its homeworld.
Ambassador Kollos and the Medusan race are among the series’ most intriguing aliens and an excellent example of the way the original show, even with its limited resources, was often far more imaginative in its depiction of aliens than the bumpy-forehead-obsessed later Treks. With just a plastic box, some leftover psychedelic optical effects and, crucially, Leonard Nimoy’s typically superb interpretive performance, the episode conjures up a sophisticated and convincing alien race.
Muldaur’s character is sophisticated as well, but she’s also symbolic of the way Trek treated women, particularly in the third season. Jones is a scientist and a diplomat, a woman with special abilities, but the script has every male on the ship fawning over her to a degree that’s condescending and in Kirk’s case almost silly. Their concern is that a woman so beautiful is being wasted on a race of beings that are hideous, the stated implication being that she’s far more useful as a wife to some deserving man than she is as the only human being capable of interacting with a vitally important alien race. There’s a fan fiction aspect to this that’s shared by “The Lights of Zetar” (although “Beauty” is a far superior episode)—sadly in both cases the condescension is foisted by female writers who seem to want to project themselves into the episode by conjuring up an idealized woman who boards the Enterprise and has everyone’s favorite Trek heroes falling in love with her. At the same time, these stories (add “The Enterprise Incident,” “Elaan of Troyius” and “Turnabout Intruder” to the mix) place women in potentially powerful positions that were unusual for the time, but undermine them by insisting that any woman in such a position must be fatally flawed.
Dr. Jones comes off a bit better than some of these characters because she is complex and throughout the story successfully fends off the attempts to pigeonhole her into a male-defined role. Indeed the weakest character in the story is Larry Marvick (David Frankham in a rather underrated crazy performance), whose love for Miranda has metastasized into a homicidal jealousy—he’s mad long before he’s driven completely over the edge by looking at Kollos without protective visors. Jones also successfully resists Kirk’s rather transparent attempt to seduce her, surely one of the least convincing such gambits in the series’ run—Kirk is out of character here in a storyline that is not centered around him. It’s unnecessary that Kirk be smitten by Miranda and his scenes unbalance an episode that might have seemed less soapy without them. To her credit Miranda (with Kirk’s prodding of course) overcomes her own weakness, her jealousy of Spock’s abilities, in time to save him from the madness of Medusan contact as well—and in time to help Spock promote Gene Roddenberry’s IDIC medallion, a story element the Trek creator reportedly added (over Nimoy’s objections) to give his marketing company Lincoln Enterprises a trinket to sell to fans.
“Is There In Truth No Beauty” is Trek Remastered’s third trip to the edge of the galaxy, on the heels of “By Any Other Name,” and between that episode and “Day of the Dove” the CBS-D team has generated enough shots of the Enterprise warping out of control through the galaxy and cruising through the galactic barrier for a lifetime. There’s at least one additional high-speed shot of the starship streaking directly toward the camera, and some tweaking of the barrier shots, this time giving them a decidedly blue hue, for the sequence in which the Enterprise is adrift outside the edge of the galaxy. The real surprise is the addition of a new starship class at the end of the episode—what looks like a scout ship or warp courier vessel, somewhat like a compacted, small version of the Daedelus class we’ve seen just as a model in Sisko’s quarters on Deep Space Nine. It’s an interesting bonus with an ambitious shot of the Enterprise pulling away from it while backlit by a nearby sun, although for my taste the lens flare added to the shot gives the whole thing an unfortunate Photoshop look (and compare the carefully textured rendering of the Antares in “Charlie X” to the very CG look of the new ship here). Still, points to the team for spicing up what could easily have been a collection of stock shots for this episode.
by Matt Wright