Oh, Star Trek, how are you so good?
The crew find themselves on a super cold planet where dogs wear shag carpets and have horns glued to their heads. But everything seems cool, and Captain Kirk beams back aboard the Enterprise. But wait! Things are far from cool, because the malfunctioning transporter splits the man in two. Enter eyeliner!Kirk, wild gesticulating and extreme, malevolent camera angles.
And yes, as you probably guessed (or hopefully know firsthand) hilarity ensues. This is Shatner over-acting at its finest. So many wild-eyed facial contortions! But things get serious fast. What could have been a ridiculous romp filled with split-in-two cliches is actually a poignant look at the duality of man. “Evil” Kirk embodies the anger, fear, and aggression. It would be easy to make “good” Kirk physically weak and “feminize” him. But that’s not the case. Our “real” Captain is strong and has control over his mind. He is intelligent and the only weakness to be found is in the weakness of his will. He lacks the conviction to make decisions, which ultimately leads to Spock stepping up.
In the end, there was never a “good” or a “bad” version of the Captain. There was simply two halves of the same whole, each with attributes necessary to form a complete human being. Sure, maybe you saw that from a mile away, but it’s not hard to imagine audiences were expecting evil!Kirk to be some kind of mustache twirling maniac. Which is what makes the artful explanation/realization that even our more negative qualities are necessary to, oh say, command a spaceship, even more effective.
Of course there is a dog dressed up as some sort of space monster. And the scenery is being chewed so fiercely I think I heard chomping off screen. And we finally get our first “He’s dead Jim,” and it’s about a dog. So yes, I had a giggle fit watching this one. But this Richard Matheson penned entry into the Trek canon is far more affecting than goofy. And that’s saying a lot considering they give bad!Kirk eyeliner, facial scratches, and a different shirt so we can tell the two apart…
Once “The Enemy Within” really got going, I was struck with a feeling of deja vu. Wait, rapey!Kirk isn’t the bad one? They are both our beloved Captain. Each was imbued with certain characteristics integral to the whole? Ahem, I give you Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 5 episode 3, “The Replacement.” Lovable Xander is split in two by a nasty demon. He’s convinced the other is his enemy, when in fact he’s just the one with more confidence. They get put back together, after Anya makes a hilarious threesome joke, and all is well. There are no puppies in costume, but the themes are there. Kudos to writer Jane Espenson for modernizing this wonderful tale fraught with character ambiguity.