|Not as homo-erotic as it looks.|
I'd never seen Space Seed, you see. The housemates and I were watching The Wrath Of Khan and I mentioned this gap in my knowledge. Naturally, we then had to watch Space Seed...
I had high hopes for this episode or, at least, higher hopes than I should have had. Now, for the most part it was exactly what I expected: the Enterprise stumbles across Khan's sleeper ship, wakes the fella up, he hides his evil semi-competently for about quarter of an hour, tries to take over the ship and gets promptly defeated before being dumped on Ceti Alpha Five with his followers and his beloved wife. In most regards it was exactly what I expected.
So why was I disappointed? Why did my housemates look so gleeful when I slotted the DVD into the player?
Well, it's the beloved wife, I'm not going to lie. You see, what I had imagined went down in this episode, based on Khan's motives and dialogue in the movie, was that he met someone on the Enterprise, they fell in love, she talks him down from whatever evil plan of evil he was trying to execute and they retire to live happily ever after on the planet of the brain-eating earwigs.
Lt. Marla McGivers, ship's historian and a hot mess of 1960s gender issues. The woman is obsessed with the big, butch manly men of history. She has filled her quarters with endless paintings of Roman centurions and other warriors. She becomes infatuated with Khan before he's even awake on the tenuous logic that he's a 20th century Sikh and that makes him a great warrior (so add some 1960s racial issues to the aforementioned hot mess). Though the whole scene where he gives her the choice “Go or stay, but do it because it is what you wish to do!” is a nice little number where you can sort of see what she sees in him... well, it's far outnumbered by the moments when he roughs her up, tortures her colleagues in front of her and transparently manipulates her to follow his agenda all while she simpers submissively.
And then she decides to settle down with him.
I felt I was being realistic. I didn't expect this episode to be anything more than a run-of-the-mill TOS episode with what I knew to be a superlative actor in the guest villain role but the sheer awfulness of Marla McGivers genuinely shocked me. Okay, Star Trek is of its time and that's some defence but it does far better with female characters in so many other episodes that screwing up this badly here genuinely baffles me. Even the functionally identical subplot with Carolyn Palamas in Who Mourns for Adonais? gives that character far more agency than McGivers gets here.
I just can't connect the reality of McGivers with how Khan talks about her in the film. Eh, the memory cheats I suppose.