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Star Trek – Friday’s Child (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

Errand of Mercy was a highlight of the first season. A wry script from producer Gene L. Coon introduced the Klingons as an antagonist for the Federation. Made up to look like space!Mongols, the Klingon Empire was presented as an imperial force hell-bent on expanding its sphere of influence. In case the parallels were a little too subtle, they were locked in a Cold War with the Federation. As such, they were the perfect stand-ins for Communist aggressors trying to undermine American foreign policy.

Of course, Errand of Mercy was brutally cynical in its depiction of the Federation. The episode suggested quite heavily that the Federation was just as imperialist and adversarial as the Klingons. They might couch their foreign policy in friendly language and polite overtures, but their end goals are quite similar. Smaller political entities are nothing but pieces shuffled around a board in a deadly game of chess. Errand of Mercy was not flattering in its portrayal of Kirk, presenting him as little more than a warmonger.

"Damn dirty Klingon!"

“Damn dirty Klingon!”

Errand of Mercy was a massive success. It remains a fan favourite to this day. In some respects, that is due to the introduction of the Klingons, but it is also an exceptional hour of scripted science fiction. So it makes sense that the show would return to the Klingons when it was renewed for a second season. Friday’s Child was the third episode produced during the second season, and returns to quite a few themes hit on by Errand of Mercy. Those themes would recur.

Friday’s Child demonstrates the obvious risks of an episode like Errand of Mercy. It’s an episode that essentially takes the “Klingons as space!Communists” seriously.

We come in peace...

We come in peace…

In an interview with The Archive of American Television, D.C. Fontana was quite frank about how the Klingons became the franchise’s first recurring antagonists:

They became our chief antagonist because they were easy to make up. Didn’t have ears as far as special prosthetics that have to be made up. They just did eyebrows and usually some make-up to darken their skin. They all tended to have dark hair. We had some really good ones like John Colicos, but they became our antagonist of choice because they were an easy make-up to do. The Romulans, who were more interesting, of course, were a lot harder because of the ears. We tried not to show too many Vulcans, because of the same problem – the ears! Especially when you had a group of people. If it was just one it was a little easier to deal with. The Klingons, Gene Coon invented them and they suddenly became really popular for us.

It is a bit of a shame, as the Klingons are much less interesting than the Romulans, at least as presented on the original Star Trek.

"One of us will almost certainly not make it back... I wonder which one..."

“One of us will almost certainly not make it back… I wonder which one…”

It is worth noting that there is some debate as to who came up with the idea of turning the Klingons into recurring foes for the Federation. On the audio commentary for The Trouble With Tribbles, Gerrold observes that the decision was made in the development of that episode:

In the planning of the episode, I realised that we needed a threat – we couldn’t just tell the Tribble story. So I said to Gene L. Coon, “I need an alien menace. Can I use the Klingons?” And Gene L. Coon – who is just one of the greatest producers I ever worked for – he said, “You know, we’ve been talking about having a continuing threat – a continuing nemesis – for Kirk and the Klingons are probably the best way to go.” So the Tribble episode was where we made the decision to have the Klingons be the recurring nemesis for the Enterprise.

While the second season episodes went into production relatively close together, the timing seems to suggest that the Klingons were likely baked into the premise of Friday’s Child before Gerrold appealed to use them in The Trouble With Tribbles, particularly since D.C. Fontana had originally developed Friday’s Child as a potential thirtieth episode of the first season.

No proof of in-tent...

No proof of in-tent…

Charting the development of the story, Marc Cushman notes in These Are The Voyages: Season Two that the Klingons were present from the earliest drafts of the story, but their role was expanded in later versions. Contrasting an early version of the story with the episode as aired, he observes:

There are no Klingons on the planet, therefore no Klingon named Kras (the clear antagonist in the final version). In fact, other than for the subplot where the Enterprise is lured away from the planet by a distress signal and then challenged by a Klingon ship — which Fontana added at Roddenberry’s request — the Klingons are discussed but not seen.

It seems like their roles was expanded as the story developed, perhaps reflecting audience response to Errand of Mercy and demonstrating Gene L. Coon’s clear desire to utilise the Klingons once again. Their appearance in Friday’s Child sets them up as a recurring adversary for the rest of the show’s original run.

Knife to see you...

Knife to see you…

Of course, in practice, the Klingons only appear in seven episodes over the course of three years – just over two episodes per year, and less than ten percent of the series. This is a rather small number of appearances, given the impact that the Klingons would have on the franchise. The Klingons would become inseparable from Star Trek, serving as the most iconic of aliens to appear in the franchise.

Klingons appear in the majority of the feature films and on every Star Trek show, with a Klingon regular appearing on three of the spin-offs. Appearing in the third episode produced for the second season makes it clear that Star Trek wants to keep them around. Of the nine episodes featuring Klingons, three are perceived to be genuine classics. Errand of Mercy, The Trouble With Tribbles and Day of the Dove are among the best-loved Star Trek shows ever produced. Even A Private Little War endures in popular memory.

Scotty might be letting that whole "Captain" thing go to his head...

Scotty might be letting that whole “Captain” thing go to his head…

The problem with Friday’s Child is that it takes the Klingons far too seriously. In Errand of Mercy, the Klingons were rather cleverly as a means of criticising the Federation – allowing Star Trek to make a fairly scathing critique of American foreign policy while hiding behind science-fiction allegory. However, Friday’s Child takes the idea of the Klingons as space!Communists far too seriously, with the story operating from the unquestionable assumption that Kirk is the good guy.

There’s none of the irony or cynicism that made Errand of Mercy seem like such a treat. There, the audience was invited to laugh at Kirk for condescending to a “primitive” culture that was actually infinitely more advanced than his own. There, his promise to help the Organian’s “rebuild” their society was a statement that was clearly as loaded and imperialist as the attitudes espoused by the Klingons.

"These missions really do bring out my inner Eagle Scout..."

“These missions really do bring out my inner Eagle Scout…”

Friday’s Child retains none of that sophistication or wit. There’s a clear sense that we are meant to take Kirk entirely at his word when he promises to respect local culture. “The Earth Federation offers one other thing, Akaar,” he promises the local chieften. “Our laws. And the highest of all our laws states that your world is yours and will always remain yours. This differs us from the Klingons. Their empire is made up of conquered worlds. They take what they want by arms and force.”

There’s no sense that Kirk is trying to turn Capella IV into a satellite state as he was with Organia. While the Klingons offer weapons, the Federation offers humanitarian supplies – “powders and liquids for the sick.” Despite the fact that the Capellans have no interest in such materials, it seems that the Federation would never consider anything as amoral as trading weapons or military technology for the precious minerals available on the planet.

Baby talk...

Baby talk…

According to These Are the Voyages, Roddenberry really pushed this idea that Kirk and his crew be presented as altruists who want nothing but the best for the native people:

Roddenberry also asked that the Federation’s interest not be limited to ‘mining rights.’ In future drafts, Kirk offers to share knowledge, medicines, and other things to help the Capellans.

This results in a rather unpleasant subtext to Friday’s Child.

The Adventures of Young Leonard McCoy...

“The Adventures of Young Leonard McCoy” was surprisingly popular in reruns…

The episode is no longer about two competing imperialist powers meddling in a culture they do not understand. Instead, it’s a story about Kirk trying to protect some natives from exploitation by a rival power. There’s something very condescending and patronising about all this. Kirk essentially finds himself cast in the role of trying to protect the Capellans from themselves. The Klingons cannot be trusted, as Kras demonstrates over the course of the episode.

The fact that the Capellans speak in stereotype doesn’t help matters. “The Earth men have different customs, but never have they lied to our people,” Akaar states. The natives speak a broken English, as if modelled on the dialogue of Native American characters from various classic television shows. Unlike the Organians, Friday’s Child does little to respect the unique culture of the Capellans. They are simply portrayed as violent and foolhardy, tricked and exploited by the cynical Klingons.

The only good Klingon...

The only good Klingon…

This turns Friday’s Child into an endorsement of the sort of politics that Errand of Mercy had railed against. As J.P. Telotte contends in The Essential Science Fiction Television Reader:

Friday’s Child never explains why the Capellans cannot trade with both the Fedeation and Klingons, especially as the two powers are not formally at war. But the simple assumption that the Capellans must cast their lot with either the Federation or the Klingons seems to indicate the extent to which Star Trek is shot through with the either-or mind-set of the Cold War. In light of this mentality, it becomes clear that the Federation is not prepared to take Capella IV by force largely because the Klingons would not stand for it – and vice versa, just as both the Soviets and Americans were extremely limited in their ability to take military action because of the fear of coming into conflict with the rival power. From this point of view, the Prime Directive sometimes looks suspiciously like propaganda, designed to help convince “third galaxy” planets that they would be better off to side with the Federation that with the Klingons – much in the way the United States and its allies vied with the Soviet Union and its allies in the 1960s to see which could make a more compelling case for itself as the legitimate foe of colonialism and friend of international liberation.

This isn’t a show that is critical of the Cold War as a concept, but instead wholeheartedly embraces the conflict between the world’s two major powers.

A bump in the road...

A bump in the road…

This contrast is a perfect example of how conflicted Star Trek was over these issues. Episodes like Errand of Mercy and A Taste of Armageddon decried the Vietnam War, while episodes like The City on the Edge of Forever and A Private Little War seemed to endorse it. In many respects, it is impossible to talk about how Star Trek felt about certain issues, because that position shifted from episode to episode. The shift between Errand of Mercy and Friday’s Child also meant a shift in the portrayal of the Klingons.

In Errand of Mercy, they were presented as an example of the most exaggerated ideological opponent. The make-up design was a little problematic, but there was a clear sense that the Klingons were not meant to be taken too seriously. They were the most primal of adversaries, the most shallow of ideological opponents, but the almost comical exaggeration seemed intentional. Everything about that situation was heightened, as if to emphasise the absurdity of it all.

"You just can't get signal in this part of the galaxy..."

“You just can’t get signal in this part of the galaxy…”

Here, we’re supposed to take it all seriously. The show is not at all critical of the hatred that the characters throw at the Klingons. “What’s a Klingon doing down here among your scrupulously honest friends anyway?” Kirk demands of Bones, suggesting that anybody who might make contact with a Klingon is guilty by association. Even McCoy is disgusted to find the Capellans dealing with the Klingons. “Does Maab know that the Klingons are our sworn enemies by their own words?”

However, the hatred runs even deeper than that. When Kirk and Spock face down the Capellans alone, Kirk is reconciled to his fate. He does have one thing for which to live, though. “There’s just one thing I want,” he admits. “The Klingon?” Spock guesses. “One of us must get him,” Kirk insists. “Revenge, Captain?” Spock inquires. “Why not?” Kirk asks. Friday’s Child never suggests that Kirk is being racist or wrong-headed here. Indeed, Kras ultimately goes off the rails, vindicating Kirk’s opinion of him completely.

When on tribe goes to war...

When on tribe goes to war…

There’s no irony or self-awareness here. As Kirk makes a valiant last stand, he’s still trying to protect the Capellans from themselves, trying to warn them of the obvious danger of trusting one of those untrustworthy Klingons. Those fans who protest the portrayal of the Star Trek cast in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country need look no further than Friday’s Child to find support for that interpretation of these characters. That movie forces Kirk to face up to his attitude in episodes like this.

Of course, the Klingons in the original Star Trek are radically different from the versions who would appear much later in the franchise. While elements of John Collicos’ portrayal of Kor might fit the template as defined in those later spin-offs and shows, it is lot harder to reconcile Kras with the Klingon ideal. Friday’s Child appears to have toned down the make-up on Kras, which is a nice touch – however he just comes across as a middle-aged balding man rather than a serious threat to the cast or the Capellans.

A rocky road...

A rocky road…

Indeed, Capellan culture seems much more like the version of Klingon culture that would develop over the course of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. A warrior culture built around the concept of strength and ritual combat, the Capellans seem more like the culture that Worf would come to venerate than anything embodied by Kras. It is interesting to note how these concepts evolve over the life-span of the franchise.

That said, Friday’s Child is rather problematic on a number of other levels. It continues the trend of gender essentialism that has been running through the last few episodes. The bulk of the plot features Kirk, Spock and McCoy stranded on a hostile planet with a pregnant woman in tow. In the final version of Friday’s Child, Eleen is still largely hostile to her would-be rescuers, providing dramatic tension. However, writer D.C. Fontana had envisaged a much more controversial conclusion.

A pregnant pause...

A pregnant pause…

In her interview with The Archive of American Television, Fontana explained:

It was really about a woman who was willing to use her child to save herself. Now, Gene changed that ending on me, so I was not real happy with the ending of Friday’s Child. I don’t think that all women are “mommies” and I don’t think that all women love their children – just look at the news. And I wanted to tell a story about a woman who would even use a newborn child to save herself. It was wrapped up in an adventure with the Klingons and everything else. I had a good time creating that culture, that society, that didn’t especially care for women – except as brood mares. And she was trying to break out of that.

That’s a rather bleak story, but it feels a lot more interesting than what was ultimately produced.

I got you babe...

I got you babe…

Eleen seems to resent the child in her belly, even if the fact is primarily conveyed through Kirk’s log entry. However, much of Friday’s Child is built around the idea that a woman cannot help but be maternal the moment that you put a child in her hands. There is a moment, after the child is born, where Eleen seems to abandon her offspring. “I really thought she’d learned to want it,” McCoy reflects, in what seems to be the moral of the story.

Ultimately, it turns out that Eleen did “learn to want it.” It is revealed that she snuck off to offer her own life in exchange for the life of her newborn son. It seems that even the most cynical and detached woman cannot resist those maternal instincts once a baby is born. It’s a rather uncomfortable piece of sexism, just like Sylvia’s gender-based irrationality in Catspaw or the assertion that the Companion is only capable of loving Cochrane if it is feminine in Metamorphosis.

Klingon to life!

Klingon to life!

(This is to say nothing of the small sequences in the story where she learns to respect McCoy once he slaps her across the face – you stay classy Leonard McCoy! – or where the male characters have to awkwardly put up with her refusal to allow Kirk or Spock to help her up the side of a rock face. Still, that cringe-worthy sequence gives us the line “I’m a doctor, not an escalator.” So, you know, at least there’s that.)

It serves as a reminder of just how backwards Star Trek could be when it came to matters of gender and feminism. As with the treatment of Janice Rand on the show – and Grace Lee Whitney off-screen – it seems like Star Trek had a lot to learn about presenting an ideal or equal future. Eleen could have been an interested and multi-faceted character. Instead, re-writes reduced her to little more than a whining woman who melts when a baby is put in her hands.

"Okay! Okay! DeForest can carry a show!"

“Okay! Okay! DeForest can carry a show!”

Friday’s Child is interesting because it is the show’s first real “McCoy” episode. It’s an example of how the show has been developing and expanding the role of McCoy as DeForest Kelley earned his place in the title credits at the start of the second season. Catspaw featured an away team of the leading trio together, while Metamorphosis stranded the trio together on an alien planet following a shuttle trip. Friday’s Child is a rare episode that isn’t carried by Kirk, Spock or the ensemble as a whole.

Friday’s Child sees the Enterprise returning to a planet that McCoy visited years earlier. As the person most familiar with the customs of the local people, he gets to guide Kirk and Spock in their interactions with the natives. He forges the bond with Eleen and delivers her baby. Although the baby does take the middle name “James” in honour of Kirk, which seems strange, the baby’s first name is given as “Leonard” in honour of McCoy.

"But I still get to save the day, right?"

“But I still get to save the day, right?”

This isn’t the first time that a Star Trek episode has reached outside Kirk and Spock to generate stories. What Are Little Girls Made Of? was about the investigation into the disappearance of Christine Chapel’s fiancée. The Naked Time devoted considerable space to Sulu and other members of the cast. Chekov gets to play an important role in The Apple. Wolf in the Fold will see Scotty accused of murder, and The Lights of Zetar will see him fall in love.

However, the focus on McCoy in Friday’s Child feels a little heavier than those examples, affording DeForest Kelley more to do than the featured players in those episodes. That said, it’s quite clear that DeForest Kelley is still the third of three stars. He doesn’t get to play a role in the dramatic climax. When he volunteers to assist, Kirk shrugs him off. “Bones, you took a medical oath long before you signed aboard my ship. That small patient needs you.” This is Shatner and Nimoy’s action sequence.

"This is your boom stick?"

“This is your boom stick?”

It’s worth noting that Kelley had to fight very hard for acknowledgment, even after his promotion to the opening credits. As Mark Clark notes in Star Trek FAQ:

Even then, Kelley seldom garnered the kind of attention, in terms of interviews and public appearances, his costars enjoyed. For instance, Roddenberry tried to send all three of the show’s leads for a 1967 appearance on NBC’s Today Show, but was informed that Today only wanted Shatner and Nimoy. This was common; producers and event organisers didn’t consider Kelley a significant draw.

Still, Kelley was a consummate professional. His work was a massive boon to the show, and he does good work with Friday’s Child, despite the significant problems with the rest of the episode.

Hack and slash, Spock, hack and slash...

Hack and slash, Spock, hack and slash…

Friday’s Child is a mess of an episode, and an example of how Star Trek never seemed entirely sure of its position on a certain issue. In some respects, this willingness to approach an issue from both angles could be considered a strength. Unfortunately, Friday’s Child is just a reactive mess.

You might be interested in our other reviews from the second season of the classic Star Trek:

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13 Responses

  1. “It is a bit of a shame, as the Klingons are much less interesting than the Romulans, at least as presented on the original Star Trek.”

    An interesting reversal then, as the Next Generation era Romulans are the dullest and vaguest of the major Trek races – with the Klingons cornering the market on honour and the Cardassians on stylish, scheming imperialism the Romulans had little left except unearned arrogance and a hideous fashion sense.

    I have absolutely no recollection of this episode, but suddenly I want to see it.

    • Yep. The poor Romulans. You could argue that Star Trek is the story of how other races culturally appropriate Romulan culture, leaving nothing but a husk in place of the Romulan Star Empire.

      (Seriously, by TNG, the Klingons have cornered the market on honour; so the Romulans become “stylish, scheming imperialists.” Then the Cardassians claim that, so the Romulans become prideful plotters. Then the Federation (!) outmanoevres and outplots the Romulans, to the point where (by the end of Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges) the Romulan Star Empire is pretty much a Federation puppet state and eventually (by the time Nemesis roles around) the Romulan government is overthrown by a human clone of Jean-Luc Picard.)

      Not sure I’d recommend Friday’s Child. DeForrest Kelley is great, but the episode itself is… unfortunate in a number of regards.

  2. …And then of course Romulus is blown up altogether in the reboot film. 😉

    As I’ve said before I think the Romulan problem is that they just don’t work terribly well in a post-Cold War mindset. They are the enigmatic, secretive, rival superpower and in an era when China is enthusiastically in bed with Western capitalism that doesn’t seem terribly relevant.

    • Yep. I think the Klingons covered the mark as Russian analogues, leaving the Romulans a bit high-and-dry. (Notably, their appearances in the second and third seasons of TNG seem very much like the show is trying to keep doing Cold War Russia, because… well, the Klingons are late-eighties and nineties Russia at this point.)

      Part of me also wonders if the design of the Romulans also played a part. While making them identical to the Vulcans helps make Balance of Terror work, it does lend them a fairly generic character design more firmly associated with Spock; they are not as visually arresting as the Klingons or the Cardassians or the Borg or even (goodness help me) the Ferengi.

  3. I had been shocked that Dorothy Fontana, who wrote some wonderful things, also wrote this. When I learned that she’d wanted Eleen to be very different, I was relieved. So she didn’t make this episode a mess by herself; she was more or less forced to make it a mess. Whew.

    There IS one thing I like about this episode, though, and that’s how alien Eleen’s attitudes feel, not about the baby, but about Capellan law. When Maab goes to kill Eleen because she carries the previous teer’s child, she acknowledges that she must die. Kirk tries to save her and is defeated, and Eleen’s not grateful that he tried to help her. She states that she was proud to obey the law (and be killed!), but she wants to see Kirk killed for touching her before she dies.

    When I was eleven years old and watching Star Trek for the very first time, that attitude of hers was one of my introductions to the idea that people from other cultures can think VERY differently from us, and that their attitude is valid within the context of their culture. Much of the rest of the episode has been watered down or had its teeth extracted, but that bit still shows us a truly alien way of thinking, and I love that about it, even if most of the rest of the episode is not terribly loveable.

    • That’s a fair point.

      Although I’ll admit that I have a great deal of trouble seeing it as anything more than “Errand of Mercy with all the good stuff stripped out of it and delivered with a straight face.”

  4. I’m glad I stumbled onto this web site. Your reviews are much more in depth and analytical than what I typically read. I happen to enjoy this episode but understand the view point of its detractors. There are “moments” I adore and sometimes I tend to view an episode as a collection of moments rather than as a coherent story as a whole.

    My wife, who is not a huge Star Trek fan, seems to like this episode. Her view is that, while it is indeed mired in the sexism prevalent in the 60s, it at least espouses the viewpoint that the child belongs to the woman and its fate should be in her hands.

    Keep up the good work on your site.

  5. Many things are going on in Friday’s Child, obvious statements about mother-hood under a barbaric, patriarchal, tribal society, but there’s something else going on here that is far more subtle and slightly obscured by the conflicting and overly-patriotic politics of the alpha males (including Kirk) in the episode.

    Part of Dorothy Fontana’s original idea for the ep was to show how some women are not meant to be, have no desire to be mothers – – okay, fine, and we saw some of that in this episode. The producers cooked Fontana’s narrative up into a more interesting meta-narrative, one that proposes resolution between opposing political agendas.

    Curiously, the primary hero of the ep is not Kirk but McCoy (Mac-Coy, The Mack-daddy of Friday’s Child), though Kirk is not ineffective or unheroic here – – Kirk shows a distasteful hatred for the Klingon Kras almost at the onset, but he might sway toward peace if Kras peaceably comes to the table.

    Dr. McCoy, more interested than Kirk in preserving lives, brings his own down-home sense of humanity and compassion to a very diverse, volatile situation – – a near-perfect mediator in a likely, potential disaster. McCoy herein shows himself to be a better representative of the Federation than Kirk does, a fine example of diplomacy and detente’ and one of McCoy’s brightest-shining moments in the series.

    I give Friday’s Child a 4.5 of 5 consumer rating – – the episode entertains and still manages to clearly show the manifold complexity of its parts as a good, ole’ 60’s TV production.

    • It is also worth noting that Friday’s Child is perhaps the only McCoy-centric episode in the original run, if his featured roles in The Man Trap or The Empath can be overlooked.

      • Don’t forget “For the World Is Hollow, and I Have Touched the Sky,” in Season 3! That’s a McCoy-centric story, and every time I see it, I’m surprised at how bad Kelley is at pretending to be in love with Natira. Romancing the space babes must be harder than Shatner and Nimoy make it look, because McCoy acts as if he’s never seen a woman before and doesn’t quite know what to do with one — very different from his behavior with Tonia Barrows in “Shore Leave.” 🙂

  6. I would be very interested to discover which actor played the part of baby Leonard James Akaar in this episode. Conjecture has come up in conversation that he/she would qualify as the youngest ever to appear in an episode of ST:TOS. Any clues??

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