Finding the good in a bad episode of Star Trek: TOS: Plato’s Stepchildren

Plato’s Stepchildren is widely regarded as one of Star Trek’s worst episodes.

The third season of Star Trek: The Original Series had some questionable episodes, several of which have been added to a “must-miss” list. Plato’s Stepchildren, the tenth episode of the third season, has claimed its spot on that list as Den of Geek calls it “horrendous and embarrassing.”

In Plato’s Stepchildren, powerful, sadistic Platonians use telekinesis to move people around like pawns on a chessboard simply because it amuses them.  Those people include Spock and Captain Kirk who have arrived on the planet with Dr. McCoy to answer a distress signal. Shortly after McCoy heals the leader of the Platonians, they demand he remain on the planet in case they need him again. McCoy refuses, of course, and what follows is a twisted game where the Platonians force Spock and Kirk to perform for them in humiliating dances and cliched romantic scenes.

Despite the kiss between Kirk and Uhura being forced, it is widely regarded as a positive moment in history, and that is one redeeming quality for this episode. The other is Alexander. A little person who desperately wanted to escape from his oppressors (as he didn’t have telekinetic power), he befriends the Enterprise crew and tries to help them.

Alexander was so desperate to be free from the Platonians’ torment that he asked Kirk, who’d managed to obtain telekinetic abilities, to allow him to kill the leader. In that moment of desperation, the pain the man suffered is so evident, helped by Michael Dunn’s masterful acting. When he realized his life was about to change, his joy couldn’t be contained. He’d suffered long enough, and now, he was leaving all of it behind him.

Alexander is the bright spot in this episode. Tortured and bullied much like some school kids today, he had no hope of ever leaving the planet. But he hung on and help arrived. That’s a powerful lesson for today’s kids and the reason why this episode isn’t a total failure.