Boldly Rewatching the Voyages: Friday’s Child

(Note: This post is viewable as a post elsewhere on this site. If you haven’t read it yet, my introductory post on this Star Trek: The Original Series rewatch is a good place to start. Previous essays on specific episodes can be found here.)

Original Air Date: December 1, 1967

Crew Death Count: 1 (Grant the security officer is killed in the prologue; plus the Klingon kills one Capellan, several appear to die in the rockslide halfway through the episode, and several more are killed in the climactic battle)

Bellybuttons: 0

Good news: “Friday’s Child” is not as terrible as I remember it. That’s not a strong endorsement, but here we are. This week, the Enterprise arrives at the planet Capella IV hoping to sign a topaline mining treaty. We’re not certain what topaline is, but according to Kirk it’s “vital to the life support systems of planetoid colonies.” McCoy has visited Capella IV in the past and offers advice about the planet’s warlike, patriarchal culture that values honesty but opposes organized healthcare, believing, like Republicans, that the sick should fend for themselves. The landing party – Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and security officer Grant (Robert Bralver) – are surprised to find a Klingon (Tige Andrews) has already arrived to compete with them for treaty rights. The premise is similar to “Errand of Mercy,” another instance of Klingons arriving ahead of the Federation to compete for the favors of a society in possession of valuable resources. We should note that Capella is a real star, about 43 light years from earth. Because of its brightness, Capella became significant in numerous ancient cultures, but Greek mythology is perhaps the most relevant to our story: Capella represented Amalthea, the goat whose horn was broken off by Zeus, transforming it to the original cornucopia, the horn of plenty that offered abundance and nourishment.

“Where the hell is the coffee?”

The episode’s title is inspired by a poem from the 1800s called Monday’s Child, a nursery rhyme intended to help children learn the days of the week. You’re most likely familiar with one of the many versions that have been published over the years: “Monday’s child is fair of face, Tuesday’s child is full of grace,” etc. While Friday’s child is commonly “loving and giving,” Star Trek’s “Friday’s Child” is said to be taken from a version of the poem printed in Harper’s Weekly in 1887: “Friday’s child is full of woe.” Eleen (Julie Newmar), the wife of the tribal leader Akaar (Ben Gage), is pregnant and falls out of favor when her husband is killed by a rival faction. When the Klingon turns the Capellans against the Federation, she is forced to escape with the landing party, giving birth in a remote cave with Dr. McCoy’s help. The newborn doesn’t experience much woe in the short time we spend with him, but Eleen does.

“Come, enjoy mixed metaphors with our indigenous American cultural stereotypes and fine Oriental rugs.”

A little woe for us viewers, also: the Federation/Klingon conflict is not handled particularly well. Only one Klingon is present; his ship is off trying to distract the Enterprise but we never even get a good look at it. When the landing party beams down during the prologue, Grant acts impulsively and draws his phaser on the Klingon. The Capellans, who frown on armed strangers in their community, kill Grant immediately. Kirk describes Grant as “young and inexperienced.” The episode opens with a briefing from McCoy about how serious the Capellans are and the riskiness of their visit. Why bring a young and inexperienced security officer? Later, the Enterprise encounters the Klingon vessel after being lured away from the planet. But the specifics of this face-off are left to our imagination – all we know is that the Enterprise returns in the nick of time, with Scott explaining, “He had no stomach for fighting.” A Klingon with “no stomach” for fighting? It seems more likely the writers were stumped and just needed to wrap things up quickly.

Soon to be buried in Grant’s tomb

On the plus side, we do get a little more insight into Klingon culture. In the Federation vs. Klingon debate, the Klingons appear to have what the Capellans want. Remembering the Capellans’ disinterest in healthcare, the Klingons offer weapons and training, whereas the Federation only offers “powders and liquids for the sick.” The Klingon tells Akaar, “We Klingons believe as you do. The sick should die. Only the strong should live.” He was instantly appointed CEO of the local health insurance provider.

“My sword is bigger than yours.”

Both Kirk and Scott do fine jobs of distinguishing the Federation from their counterparts. Kirk’s response to the Klingon’s “sick should die” speech is a speech of his own. He reminds Akaar that the Klingons are not partners, but conquerors who “take what they want by arms and force.” By engaging in a treaty with the Federation, Capella IV will enjoy the protection of Federation law, which means “your world is yours and will always remain yours.” Scott, in temporary command of the Enterprise, also demonstrates the Federation’s “life first” philosophy. When the ship receives a suspicious distress call, Scott makes the decision to temporarily leave the planet, and the landing party, to investigate. He could easily have ignored the call, but instead recognizes a duty to help others. There are some nice teamwork scenes when Uhura, Sulu, and Chekov all work with Scott to locate and identify the real source of the distress calls, the aforementioned Klingon vessel.

Among the landing party, Spock gets the least action, primarily offering a few pithy remarks and helping Kirk construct a collection of bows and arrows after they flee into the hills. He does offer a powerful reminder that, as explorers, they must view each culture through a unique lens, when he tells McCoy: “Virtue is a relative term, Doctor.” Kirk, thankfully, is in a more diplomatic mood than usual, sparing us the bluster that failed him in “Errand of Mercy.” In an outburst Spock describes as “inefficient,” Kirk takes his initial anger at Grant’s death out on McCoy, who is as close as they have to a resident expert on Capellan culture. Realizing the tragedy wasn’t McCoy’s fault, Kirk offers an appropriate apology later.

Worst 4-H project ever

Much of the episode revolves around McCoy and his interactions with Eleen. Julie Newmar deserved a more carefully thought out character, but she does well with what she’s given. On Capella IV, children belong to their fathers; once Akaar is dead, Eleen no longer wants her unborn child. There are also strict protocols about leaders’ wives being touched by strangers, requiring McCoy to unleash his forceful personality to treat Eleen. Sadly, this results in McCoy slapping his female patient in the face. In fairness, she slapped him first, twice, and physical confrontation is part of the Capellans’ day-to-day life. Still, it’s a painful moment for patient and audience. McCoy is otherwise very encouraging toward Eleen, and the forced intimacy of their time together causes Eleen to declare her child to be McCoy’s. She’s so smitten that she saves the landing party in the end, offering herself as sacrifice to the rival faction responsible for Akaar’s death, trying to convince them that her child and the Federation representatives are dead. The ruse isn’t entirely successful, but it does prompt the Klingon to show his true colors. Eleen’s noble gesture inspires a similar act from the rival leader, Maab (Michael Dante), who sacrifices himself to save the others. Eleen even names her new child Leonard James Akaar (sorry Spock!), which Kirk calls “a name destined to go down in galactic history.”

“It’s a common earth greeting, honest.”

Ultimately, “Friday’s Child” is a cowboys-and-Indians story that harks back to Trek’s source material, Wagon Train. The Klingon no doubt represents the French or Spanish or some other competing third party, trying to dazzle the natives with a nicer set of beads and trinkets than the western settlers. The dialogue even pilfers stereotypical “Injun” phrases: McCoy calls the Klingon a liar by saying, “We do not hear his words,” and the Capellans refer to topaline as “rocks.” By episode’s end, the dead colleague is, once again, forgotten, while Spock serves as straight man for banter between Kirk and McCoy as the “wagon train” warps off to the next adventure. The good news is our crew performed admirably and Kirk has taken to heart McCoy’s advice from “Metamorphosis,” that diplomacy is part of his job description.

“Let’s just forget this ever happened.”

Still, the Capellans are written as caricatures and there were deeper issues to be explored here. Are the Capellans now expected to accept the Federation heathcare they’ve previously rejected? Should they be required to accept it? During their escape, McCoy persuades Eleen to let him treat her injured arm – has he created a healthcare enlightenment? Does the Federation have a moral right – or responsibility – to tend to the sick the Capellans have been discarding? Kirk clearly stated that a mining treaty offers the Capellans protection under Federation laws. But does it obligate them to live under those laws? Is this the beginning of the end of traditional Capellan culture? We’re in a sticky situation worthy of an entire additional episode. As it does so often, TOS raises questions without answering them. That’s not necessarily a failure; simply having the conversation elevates TOS above most episodic television. We, like the Enterprise crew, are on a journey that never entirely ends, because these questions don’t have absolute answers. The journey isn’t just through physical space, but through the complex hearts and minds of diverse cultures, including our own. The Federation will now be expected to honor its commitment to protect Capella IV with its cornucopia of topaline; the battle-hungry Capellans have laid down their arms to negotiate. This is one of Star Trek’s great gifts, a recurring parable of compromise and conversation that serves us well in any century.

Next: The Deadly Years

One thought on “Boldly Rewatching the Voyages: Friday’s Child

  1. I didn’t get much from this episode, to be honest. I like your interpretation of a possible Native American story, or the one about Healthcare, but I simply found the plot messy and confusing.

    I loved McCoy saying that he’s a doctor, not an elevator, though! :–D

    Liked by 1 person

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