The Paradise Syndrome is clearly a mix between Pocahontas and Avatar, and it probably served as an inspiration for The Inner Light (the amazing episode of the fifth season of The Next Generation). There are so many things done right in this episode! Unfortunately, there’s also one extremely negative aspect and I want to get it off my chest immediately.
It’s pathetic how white actresses and actors were used to play Native American characters. I know perfectly well that it was common practice in Hollywood at the time (just think of the equally pathetic Chinese character played by Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s in 1961), but I would have expected something better from Star Trek. It’s simply impossible to take seriously Caucasian actors who imitate the poor Native Americans, once mercilessly massacred and then even deprived of the right to interpret themselves in films and TV shows. Simply terrible.
If we overlook this huge shortcoming of The Paradise Syndrome, we can talk about an exciting story in which both science fiction and drama equally work. The Enterprise plans to deviate an asteroid on a collision course with a planet very similar to Earth (another one!) home to some Native Americans. There’s an explanation, though: The ancient race of the Preservers travelled the galaxy to save endangered species by relocating them on planets similar to their native ones. That’s why there are so many humanoids around, as Doctor McCoy is surprised to find out!
In short, Captain Kirk has an accident and is left missing on the planet while Spock takes the Enterprise to the asteroid. Incredibly, the half-Vulcan fails to deviate it (in his defense, it’s not easy to work with McCoy screaming in his pointed ears all the time), and two months pass before he can recover the captain. In these two months, the latter (who suffered almost total amnesia) becomes part of the Native American tribe and is considered a God, he’s respected by the wise Goro (Richard Hale), begins a relationship with the beautiful Miramanee (Sabrina Scharf), and attracts the wrath of Salish (Rudy Solari).
The love story is not at all well developed or acted, and it follows all the possible clichés of sixties’ TV and cinema (why do two lovers chase each other through the woods laughing? I’ve never chased any of my girlfriends like that in my life, am I strange or are the sixties strange?). However, the ending is far from trivial. The planet’s weather changes due to the meteorite approaching and this is enough to make the people rebel against Kirk and his girl who are stoned to death. The arrival of Spock and McCoy manages to avoid the destruction of the planet thanks to the reactivation of the Preservers’ anti-meteor device, but cannot avoid the death of Miramanee who, poor girl, was pregnant!
The ending is truly poignant, with the captain who had invested all of himself in his new life (he didn’t remember his past) and had really fallen in love with his wife. Losing her like this, for the envy of the rival in love and for reasons outside his control, is a really strong blow and Kirk is truly broken-hearted. There’s a clear parallel with the ending of The Inner Light in which Picard is alone on the Enterprise D playing with the flute the song he had learned in the other life he had been given in which he was married and had two children. That episode is a true masterpiece of The Next Generation and I believe that it wouldn’t exist without this The Paradise Syndrome of the original series, which once again gives us an innovative idea partially ruined only by highly questionable casting choices. Ciao!
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