Boldly Rewatching the Voyages: The Galileo Seven

(Note: If you haven’t read it yet, my introductory post on this Star Trek: The Original Series rewatch is a good place to start.)

Original Air Date: January 5, 1967

Crew Death Count: 3 (Latimer and Gaetano from Galileo, plus Ensign O’Neal in Landing Party Number 2)

Bellybuttons: 0

I’m a sucker for a good 1970s disaster film (think Airport (1970), The Poseidon Adventure (1972), The Towering Inferno (1974), etc.), but only while researching “The Galileo Seven” did I learn the 1939 film Five Came Back helped pave the way for the disaster film genre. Five Came Back is one of five motion pictures Lucille Ball appeared in that year. It also provided the premise for “The Galileo Seven,” the 16th episode of a TV series produced by Ball’s Desilu Productions. In Five Came Back, twelve passengers and crew board a commercial flight to Panama City. After a crash landing in the Amazon (spoiler alert) only five come back. This foreshadows the fate of the crew in “The Galileo Seven.” Instead of a tropical jaunt, Spock leads six members of the Enterprise crew on the shuttlecraft Galileo (which was apparently under repair during “The Enemy Within”) to observe a “quasar-like formation” called Murasaki 312. The shuttle is disabled by “violent radiation” and crash lands on the planet Taurus 2. This puts Spock in charge of an entirely different type of mission, as they struggle to repair the shuttle and avoid being killed by giant Bigfoot-like natives. Not everyone survives, and you can guess how many come back.

Image of passengers from 1939 film Five Came Back (left), image of 7 crew members from the Star Trek episode The Galileo Seven (right)
Five Came Back (1939) and “The Galileo Seven”: Don’t get too attached to these people

What’s most distressing about “The Galileo Seven” is that Kirk is the real villain. Murasaki 312 is a detour from the Enterprise’s primary assignment, delivering urgently-needed medical supplies for plague victims on an earth colony. This life-saving mission is so important, the Federation has sent the impressively-titled Galactic High Commissioner Ferris (John Crawford) to keep Kirk on task. The captain tells us he has standing orders to investigate these quasar-ish phenomena, but he (and Starfleet) would have enough sense to remember that life comes first: even on a mission of exploration, a public health crisis is more vital than abstract astrophysics research. When Kirk talks about standing orders, Ferris rightfully points out, “Yes, but you’ve lost your crew.” It doesn’t help that Kirk and Ferris have complete disdain for each other. Consider the way Ferris sneers when he enters the bridge of the Enterprise. Perhaps Ferris’ disapproval provokes a passive-aggressive response from Kirk. Either way, there’s a plague! Kirk is wrong to delay, and Ferris shows poor judgment when he continues to sneer over crew members killed in the line of duty. (Thankfully, a female yeoman is on hand to serve them all coffee.)

While Kirk is being nagged by Ferris, Uhura demonstrates that there’s little she can’t do. Uhura identifies Taurus 2 as the only inhabitable planet in the vicinity, and she coordinates information from departments throughout the ship, giving Kirk more time to pose for dramatic effect. Of the multiple leadership styles on display in “The Galileo Seven,” Uhura’s is one of the best.

Image from Star Trek episode The Galileo Seven with (left to right) Uhuru, Kirk, and Ferris on bridge of Enterprise
Uhura does honest work while Kirk and Ferris argue

McCoy, on the other hand, is quite a letdown. With no rare disease to cure, he has little to do but take cheap shots at Spock. McCoy believes Spock has long been scheming for command to demonstrate the superiority of his logical mindset. It’s a bizarre statement; Spock is clearly not an opportunist. McCoy questions and criticizes Spock throughout the episode, but he’s not as blatantly insubordinate as Lieutenant Boma (Don Marshall) who, in a classic faux “pro-life” stance, demands the living risk themselves to provide a traditional burial for the dead, and stomps his feet and shouts until he gets his way. Only late in the episode does McCoy, along with Scott, tell Boma he’s out of line; a bit hypocritical, as McCoy had encouraged and taken part in the nit-picking.

Compare that to Scott who, like Uhura, keeps his priorities straight. This is one of the chief engineer’s finest moments. It helps that Scott is the only member of the seven with urgent and clearly-defined duties. I kept wondering if the sulking officers among the Galileo seven simply need more work to do. They don’t demonstrate the degree of self-direction we expect from the Enterprise crew. The only member of Spock’s crew to consistently keep quiet is (surprise!) the one female on board, Yeoman Mears (Phyllis Douglas), who also has no responsibilities beyond “recording.” (Or, as one of the Tor TOS rewatchers pointed out, “there wasn’t a Mr. Coffee station.”) Mears seems present primarily to assume a suggestive position late in the episode while the male officers remain comfortably seated. We can easily question Spock’s leadership, but the Enterprise isn’t for amateurs: it’s reasonable to expect these people to work proactively instead of sitting back and complaining. Gaetano (Peter Marko) is especially lacking: despite tough talk earlier, he panics and is killed by a lumbering native moving slower than a tortoise.

Image from Star Trek episode The Galileo Seven with Yeoman Mears on floor of shuttlecraft and male crew members in chairs
“We’re moving!” We are indeed, Yeoman. We are, indeed.

It’s not surprising that the most grievously insubordinate crew members, Boma and Gaetano, advocate a show of strength by confronting their opponents head-on, exactly what Spock himself suggested against the Romulans in “Balance of Terror.” This time, Spock chooses to frighten the natives with carefully aimed phaser fire, reminding his colleagues of their “duties to other life forms, friendly or not.” His approach makes sense in terms of the Prime Directive: they must defend themselves but should avoid interference as much as possible.

The primary difference between Spock’s approach and McCoy’s seems to be one of free will versus fatalism. They both embrace the Federation’s life first philosophy, but interpret it differently. Only Spock and Scott work aggressively to escape the planet. McCoy and the others, while perfectly willing to instigate war against the natives, otherwise generally accept their fate, as if they plan to settle in for a long stay on Taurus 2. Burying their increasingly dead ship mates seems to be their greatest concern despite attacks from the hostile natives. McCoy even says, “Let us die like men, not machines!” (No word on how Yeoman Mears felt about dying like a man.) Boma, in particular, insists on recovering Latimer’s and Gaetano’s bodies and holding graveside services. Clearly, there’s a fine line between nobility and foolishness, and…no, wait, it’s not a fine line at all. Risking lives to “save” a dead person is a foolish notion that belongs in a John Wayne movie. Spock is correct when he says, “My concern for the dead will not bring him back to life…” A “decent burial” makes no sense among space travelers, where the deceased would most likely be cremated or ejected into the vacuum of space under normal circumstances.

Image from Star Trek episode The Galileo Seven with Spock and McCoy arguing
“Damn it, Spock, I’m a doctor, not a loyal friend.”

Spock, however, is more like Kirk than the others would like to admit. He looks for the middle ground that will save his crew and the natives, saying, “I’m frequently appalled by the low regard you earthmen have for life.” Spock, like Kirk, tests every possibility in search of a way forward, saying, “I expect nothing…it is merely logical to try all the alternatives.” This is why Spock suggests electrifying the shuttle’s exterior to fend off the natives. Kirk would call this luck, Spock would call it experimentation, but the outcome is the same: we make our own luck. Spock’s mistake, the one way in which he deviates from Kirk’s approach, is failing to obtain buy-in from his crew. Kirk typically uses two techniques to achieve this: motivational speeches (Mears even says, “We could use a little inspiration!”) and collaborative decision-making. We can’t really expect a “Win one for the Gipper” moment from Spock, but he has been a Starfleet officer long enough to understand the value of the conference room scene. It’s sometimes easier to obtain consensus by giving everyone a chance to air their opinions and differences. Instead, Spock engages in a series of one-on-one debates and generally capitulates to the others just to get them to shut up.

“The Galileo Seven” raises the always tricky question of when insubordination and mutiny are acceptable. I suspect that the higher the rank, the more likely the answer will be “Never.” Five Came Back may have been the prime inspiration for this episode, but Mutiny on the Bounty came to mind frequently as I watched. I’ve never read the 1932 novel by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall, based on actual events that took place in 1789. I have seen several of the film adaptations, and different interpretations offer varying degrees of sympathy to either Captain Bligh or the mutineers led by Fletcher Christian. Mutiny is not the act of one person disobeying orders, but a collaboration or conspiracy of refusing orders, and there is plenty of that in “The Galileo Seven.” The potential “mutineers” in “The Galileo Seven” don’t have much credibility: Spock may be cold in his delivery, but his orders are reasonable and clearly intended to save lives. At what point does mutiny become a valid choice? Insubordination, by individuals or groups, was not yet common (or at least not commonly known) in the Vietnam War by the time “The Galileo Seven” aired, but draft evasion and public resistance to the war were on the increase. Antiwar demonstrators and conscientious objectors considered the Vietnam War an immoral act that mercilessly consumed lives and tax dollars, yet they were labelled a threat by the establishment. Resisting authority was on a lot of people’s minds.

Left: Image of Charles Laughton from the movie Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), Right: Image of Spock and a crew member from Star Trek episode The Galileo Seven
Captain Bligh (Charles Laughton in 1935’s Mutiny On the Bounty) had a much more cooperative crew than Spock

In some ways, Spock in “The Galileo Seven” is less like Captain Bligh and more reminiscent of “the best and the brightest,” Robert McNamara and the other systems theorists who believed business operations principles could be applied to combat in Vietnam and who inspired our current generation of large-scale data exploiters such as Brin, Page, and Zuckerberg. It’s a hard line to argue. When Spock quantifies the situation, “It is more rational to sacrifice one life than six…,” we not only understand the origins of his “needs of the many” philosophy in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), but we have no room to disagree. The wonderkids of the 1960s failed because they didn’t embrace the “outside the box” attitude preached by some of their 1970s management consultant successors. The 1960s technocrats were too sure of themselves and their belief that the rest of the world could be bent to their will. They naively believed international diplomacy and combat could be managed as easily as manufacturing cars. In reality, the boardroom was never the battlefield they claimed it to be. Thinking outside the box is where Spock excels and it’s not fully appreciated by his crew, except perhaps Scott, who Spock addresses when he says, “There are always alternatives.” (A lesson Kirk recalls, also in Star Trek II, when he reminds Saavik, “As your teacher Mr. Spock is fond of saying, I like to think there are always possibilities.”) Spock’s decision at the end, to dump the shuttle’s fuel and create a visual flare for the Enterprise to spot, isn’t “human,” as Kirk and McCoy declare, but simply a result of Spock weighing the alternatives and choosing the option he believes most likely to succeed. This is the calculating Spock we’ve seen in “Balance of Terror” and “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” not taking risk, but managing risk by a dispassionate analysis of the alternatives.

It seems only fair to consider the significance of the shuttle’s name: Galileo. We see a second shuttlecraft in this episode, this one called Columbus; naming a vessel after Christopher Columbus was still considered a good idea in 1967, before the man who “sailed the ocean blue” was more widely understood to be a butcher who didn’t “discover” anything, because the Americas were already settled by indigenous cultures. The name Galileo would seem to be less problematic, but is it really? Never mind that the Catholic Galileo fathered three children out of wedlock, two of them daughters, and shipped both girls off to the difficult life of 17th century convents (one of them died of dysentery at the age of 33). In fact, the cold-heartedness of which Spock is accused, the very anti-humanist attitudes of the aforementioned Zuckerberg and similarly-minded technocrats who reduce human existence to big data, can reasonably be traced back to Galileo, who argued that the world could be described in purely mechanical terms. Galileo applied only “primary qualities” to describe objects: size, mass, and motion. He promoted a world view that was literally less than human: “I think that if ears, tongues, and noses were removed shapes and numbers would remain, but not odors, nor tastes, nor sounds.” Galileo would ignore the most inspirational experiences of life!

Image from Star Trek episode The Galileo Seven showing Scott and Spock working in shuttle craft
“What if we ditch the complainers and call it Two Came Back?”

Lewis Mumford has become my most quoted author in recent months, and he describes the error of Galileo’s ways in his 1970 book The Pentagon of Power: “The only world that human beings move about in with some confidence is not Galileo’s ‘objective’ world of primary qualities but the organic world as modified by human culture, that is, by the symbols of ritual and language, by the diverse arts, by tools and utensils and practical activities, by geotechnic transformation of landscapes and cities, by laws and institutions and ideologies. … When Galileo’s successors pulverized this immense cultural heritage into that which was measurable, public, ‘objective,’ repeatable, they not merely falsified or obliterated the basic facts of human existence, but curtailed the possibilities for human growth. Even worse, they created split personalities, whose private and subjective life never could, on the accepted postulates, modify or be modified by their public, objective life. By the nineteenth century, that split opened an unbridgeable gap between the artist and the scientist…”

Thank heavens Spock is wise enough to look beyond this static attitude. As odd as it seems that he again displays obscure knowledge of earth history, at least he looks for cultural clues to deduce the natives’ abilities and intentions. (In fairness, Boma attempts some analysis in his desire to attack.) The fact that the natives’ weapons resemble Folsom points, a style of stone projectile points used by indigenous populations across North America from 9500 BCE to 8000 BCE, gives credence to Spock’s expectation that well-aimed phaser blasts will frighten them off. The fact that the strategy doesn’t pay off does not invalidate the importance of the analysis.

Image from Star Trek episode The Galileo Seven showing Gaetano, Boma, and Spock on alien planet
Spock sizes up the locals

The lesson we’re meant to take from “The Galileo Seven” seems to be a superficial affirmation of human exceptionalism. This begins with the flawed claim that this is Spock’s first test of leadership. As many have pointed out, Spock has been a Starfleet officer too long for that to be true. In fact, we’ve already seen Spock in temporary command of the Enterprise. More importantly, TOS has a tendency to put the cart before the horse, using Spock’s logical nature as comic relief to demonstrate that humans are superior. This typically backfires, because upon further analysis, humans would often benefit from more closely emulating Spock and other alien cultures. We tend to associate risk-taking and danger with living a fully human life, as if risk for its own sake is somehow impressive. Spock’s choice to burn the fuel, as with his other actions, is fully supportable by a logical analysis. The truth is, we know the real driving force behind hostility toward Spock, something we’ve already seen in several episodes: he’s not “one of us.” Spock represents the black officer or the female CEO who is more likely to be treated disrespectfully by subordinates. This is what makes the final scene so disappointing, when Kirk jokes about Spock’s “human” decision. (Kirk really is the villain of this episode. Hope those plague victims are still hanging on!) Yes, the captain gets a long, awkward laugh from his bridge staff (and why are they so happy after losing three of their ship mates?), but at the expense of alienating his first officer and missing the point: “othering” someone today denies our potential to forge connections with them tomorrow. It also denies their potential to become what Spock already is – a friend, a colleague, and the one person who might save your life when the chips are down.

Next: The Squire of Gothos