Boldly Rewatching the Voyages: What Are Little Girls Made Of?

(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: October 20, 1966

Crew Death Count: 2

Bellybuttons: 2 (A tease of two Shats, but Andrea’s slinky costume gives us a near miss.)

Like “The Enemy Within,” the first season episode “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” was written by a long-time science-fiction writer, in this case Robert Bloch, who by 1966 had published twelve novels and numerous short stories. Bloch is best remembered for his 1959 novel Psycho, the basis for Hitchcock’s 1960 movie. Also like “The Enemy Within,” this episode explores issues of identity and is somewhat a tale of two Kirks. The episode title comes from the 19th century nursery rhyme, perhaps written by English poet Robert Southey, which contains the lines:

What are little boys made of?
Snips and snails and puppy dogs’ tails
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice and everything nice

Image from Star Trek episode What Are Little Girls Made Of showing Spock, Kirk, 2 unidentified crew members, and Chapel
At home on the bridge

In “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” the Enterprise has gone to planet Exo-III in search of Dr. Roger Korby (Michael Strong), who Spock describes as the “Pasteur of archaeological medicine,” and who went missing years ago. Why the Enterprise is here is never clarified, as Kirk reports that two previous missions were unable to locate Korby. Why would Starfleet send a third? Either way, Korby and Chapel were (are still?) engaged to be married. Korby contacts the Enterprise, Kirk and Chapel beam down, and they quickly get wrapped up in Korby’s sinister plan to infiltrate society with androids derived from technology left behind by Exo-III’s previous inhabitants.

In many ways, this is a classic “Life first” TOS episode, and the theme is introduced in subtle ways. Some mundane work activity on the bridge during the prologue demonstrates what day-to-day life must be like on the Enterprise. Also, background gawkers smiling during the prologue, and a hug from Uhura before departure, make it clear that Chapel has shared her saga with her shipmates and they are rooting for her happiness. Chapel revisiting a lost love is reminiscent of McCoy doing the same in “The Man Trap.” It all reminds us that the Enterprise isn’t an office or a factory, but home to hundreds of people who will presumably spend many hours off duty and living their lives.

Image from Star Trek episode What Are Little Girls Made Of showing Brown, Kirk, and Chapel in cave
Heck of a job, Brownie.

We quickly get into deeper questions about life and human behavior. The question is often asked as, “What does it mean to be human?” I’d prefer we take more responsibility and ask, “What should it mean to be human?” Some of this material is set up by Brown (Harry Basch), Korby’s assistant who, at first, doesn’t seem to recognize Chapel, despite her familiarity in calling him Brownie. When faced with the first of two red shirt deaths, Brown demonstrates no sympathy. Before we learn that he is an android created by the elusive Korby, Brown introduces the matter of choice. He describes the planet’s long-dead inhabitants, later described as the Old Ones, and how changing conditions forced them to move from the planet’s surface into a network of caves. Brown credits Korby with the theory that “freedom of movement and choice produced the human spirit,” so that when the Old Ones (despite not being human) moved underground they “replaced freedom with a mechanistic culture.” 1960s America was a country not that far removed from settlement of the American west and its promise of freedom to roam. Oklahoma entered statehood in 1907, New Mexico and Arizona followed in 1912, and only in 1959 did Alaska and Hawaii become states. At the time I write this in the early 21st century, we’re debating similar questions of choice as it relates to freedom of movement. Extremist demonstrators refuse to wear face masks to discourage the spread of a lethal virus, while Black Lives Matters demonstrators just want to walk to the grocery store without being assassinated. Who controls freedom of movement in a “free” society, and how much should our choices benefit the individual versus the overall population? Brown gives us an early hint of Korby’s plans when he says the Old Ones’ technology must be “freed from this cavernous environment” so it can “revolutionize the universe.” Like our Starfleet protagonists, and like all of us today, the androids seek freedom of movement, even if they don’t fully understand why.

Image from Star Trek episode What Are Little Girls Made Of showing Chapel and Andrea
I’m too sexy for my jumpsuit

Chapel’s presence, and her relationship with Korby, sets up additional questions of choice. We’re told early on that Chapel gave up a career in bioresearch to serve on a starship. It’s not spelled out, but clearly implied, that she did this with the hope of finding her lost love. This appears to be a real choice, unlike the “choices” made by the future brides from “Mudd’s Women.” It might be frustrating that TOS gives us a woman of science who rejects her career for a man, but wouldn’t many of us today, regardless of gender, make a similar choice for someone we truly love? Chapel’s freedom of choice becomes more dramatic midway through the episode, when Kirk (really an android Kirk created by Korby) asks Chapel what she would do if he ordered her to turn on Korby. Chapel pleads with Kirk not to give such an order. Not because her loyalty is divided (“I’m not torn,” she says), but because of the emotional trauma of helping to convict her fiancé. She knows by now that Korby can’t be trusted, but love is not so easily dismissed. Are love and trust mutually inclusive? Andrea (Sherry Jackson) asks Chapel this exact question, and the complexities of human emotion make a concise answer impossible.

The extent to which the androids have similar autonomy is contradicted throughout the episode, perhaps to indicate that their programming is not prepared for the introduction of emotional strangers. Android Kirk, after a brief appearance on the Enterprise, says he felt at home on the ship, as if he’s plotting his own future rather than the duties Korby has in mind. Andrea becomes confused by multiple makeout sessions with Kirk, first at Korby’s instruction and then from Kirk’s attempts to test her programming. Her expressions imply human emotion, but she’s programmed to mimic human emotions. This “confusion” may just be her internal circuits attempting to resolve the proper response to new stimuli, the progression of a series of if/then statements, just as human emotions are evolution’s manifestation of the same process. Where do we draw the line between human and non-human? Does the line even need to exist?

Image from Star Trek episode What Are Little Girls Made Of showing Kirk holding cave rock with Ruk in background
“Note to Props Department: Maybe next time make the cave formations less phallic-looking.”

Ruk (Ted Cassidy), Korby’s hulking henchman, is somehow even more “human” in behavior. Ruk kills two Enterprise security officers. Korby says this was against his wishes, but we’re left with the impression that this is exactly what Korby wanted. Unlike Andrea, Brown, and android Kirk, Ruk was created by the Old Ones, and considers himself “much superior” to Korby’s creations (and he intends to remain superior, as Ruk himself assisted Korby in building the later robots). Kirk interprets this as pride, but maybe it’s simply a statement based on objective criteria, much as Data might declare his processing ability superior to humans’ in TNG. Kirk exploits it either way, first drawing out Ruk’s memories (strangely repressed) of what really happened to the Old Ones: they developed androids that were so advanced, and so independent, that they eventually turned on their masters and took over. This leaves some significant questions, such as why Ruk is the only original android to survive, and why he ever agreed to serve Korby in the first place. Considering how quickly he turns on Korby, we have to wonder if Ruk had his own long-term plans all along, and was going along with Korby until the time was right. There are two more human traits: secrecy and ambition.

Ruk’s behavior has an obvious connection with Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, first published in the 1942 short story “Runaround.” (Asimov also developed the positronic brain concept later used for Data in TNG.) Even if the Three Laws existed in the Star Trek universe, they are intended to protect humans, and we finally learn that there are no humans among Korby’s group. Korby himself is an android, inhabited by the consciousness of the real Korby, who died years earlier of physical injuries. We get a sense that the Old Ones might still be alive if they had programmed the Three Laws into their robots. Those androids seem to have received very different guidance, as Ruk says, “Survival must cancel out programming.” That desire for longevity, even at the expense of others, seems very human. Kirk (the real one) eats lunch when he gets the opportunity, probably for the same reason he seeks food in the Genesis cave in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982): “Survival is the first order of business.” We don’t expect machines to have this same instinct, but consider the very apps and algorithms that have infected our own lives. Good luck removing all traces of Google, phone tracking, web site tracking, and other surveillance software from all of your devices. Even our home appliances are spying to us. They’re as relentless as the Terminator, programmed for survival.

Left: Image from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan showing Kirk eating apple, Right: Image from Star Trek episode What Are Little Girls Made Of showing Kirk eating lunch
“I don’t believe in the no-lunch scenario.”

Korby’s history in archaeological medicine puts an interesting spin on Star Trek’s theme of exploration and the Prime Directive. We think of the Prime Directive in terms of existing civilizations, but what about planets like Exo-III, where the inhabitants are long gone? One of Korby’s prior accomplishments was a revolution in immunization techniques based on medical records gathered from ruins on another planet. Perhaps a similar expedition is what brought him to Exo-III. Throughout the modern era, we have asked the same questions about exploring “lost” cultures – who decides what’s important, what’s reported as history, and what happens to recovered antiquities. How should we represent the Maya, the ancient Egyptians, or the Old Ones of Exo-III? How do we distinguish between legitimate use and appropriation? This has more immediate consequences in terms of how the Federation, and all later societies they come in contact with, will be forever changed by absorbing technology from past cultures. This is not so different from the Borg attempt to achieve “master race” status through assimilation of all others. Korby’s comments indicate that he doesn’t trust the Federation, or anyone else, with Exo-III’s technology. He talks about discoveries lost due to superstition, ignorance, or “a layman’s inability to comprehend,” a fairly radical accusation for the progressive Federation of the 23rd century. Korby’s insistence that only he, with no interference, is fit to manage this technology, is arrogant.

Remember that this is Korby’s android speaking, which contains Korby’s consciousness and presumably speaks as he would have. It seems noble to want to offer immortality to the galaxy in the form of android bodies that will carry our “souls” when our organic bodies wear out, a simplistic, 1960s version of the Singularity Ray Kurzweil has written about. Yet android Korby goes too far, planning to eliminate greed, jealousy, and hate. Kirk reminds him that these are just the flip side of sentiment, tenderness, and love, which could just as easily be eliminated from the human condition. Who decides? What should it mean to be human?

Image from Star Trek episode What Are Little Girls Made Of showing Ruk, Kirk, Korby, and Chapel
“No, Bill, it’s Wheel of Fortune, not Wheel of Shatner.”

The fact remains, in this case, it’s still the android Korby doing the talking, and if he/it has the same tendencies as Ruk, that “Survival must cancel out programming,” then maybe this survival-first programming has overridden Korby’s moral fiber. Both Chapel and Kirk make reference to the real Korby’s appreciation of life, and Chapel calls his current behavior decidedly un-Korby-like. Maybe the android Korby’s lack of compassion corresponds to his lack of humanity, or Korby himself changed before the transfer. As an android, he has a vested interest in promoting his own kind as the answer to humanity’s problems.

Despite insisting that his intentions are good, Korby clearly knows that sentient life forms will not take kindly to his plans. He tries to infiltrate the Enterprise by replacing Kirk. He wants a new planet with more resources so he can construct better androids in secret. Humans, as represented by Kirk and Chapel, find the idea of android replacements distasteful. Even android-Korby isn’t entirely sold on his own idea. He seems to have retained Korby’s love for Chapel, greeting her with genuine warmth, and commanding Ruk not to imitate Chapel’s voice. Korby’s initial insistence that Kirk beam down to Exo-III alone quickly yields when he learns that Chapel is on board the Enterprise. Yet, left to his own ends, he didn’t develop an android Chapel to accompany him as an equal, but the centerfold-like Andrea who is intended to only follow orders. Either he found the idea of an android Chapel equally distasteful, invalidating his claims of android superiority, or the original Korby was insincere in his love for Chapel, OR something in Korby didn’t transfer to the android. Perhaps android-Korby accepted Chapel’s presence not out of love, but from an expectation that he could easily manipulate her. In each scenario, the lines between human and machine continue to be blurred.

Image from Star Trek episode What Are Little Girls Made Of showing Andrea, Chapel, and Korby
Who would the real Korby have chosen?

Korby’s creation of a duplicate Kirk takes us even deeper into identity questions. Unlike the divided Kirk of “The Enemy Within,” here we have a facsimile. Even Andrea can’t distinguish them. As far back as Heraclitus and Plato, philosophers have debated the Ship of Theseus problem. If every component of a ship, or any system, is replaced by new components, is it the same? At what point does it become something different? If it is fundamentally the same, what if the original components were later repaired and reassembled? Are they both copies? We don’t consider humans any less so because they have artificial legs or organ transplants. Android Kirk doesn’t need to eat and considers this a plus, as he will never starve. Real Kirk believes the android to be inferior for its inability to savor food and other pleasures. Is this what makes us human? Again, does the distinction even matter? The same question has been debated within Star Trek about use of transporter technology, where individuals are disassembled and reassembled over and over. What about the Spock that arises from the Genesis planet in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)? What about each of us, changing both cells and behavior as we age through life?

Data will be accepted as a sentient life form in TNG, but TOS is of an earlier generation. Transhumanism and the Singularity, involving advances in technology so fundamental that the human condition is radically altered, were remote concepts in the 1960s (Johnnie von Neumann discussed it in the 1950s, and I.J. Good wrote about it in 1965), and technology was more easily distinguishable from humanity. Our current popular entertainment, in movies such as Ex Machina (2014) and Marjorie Prime (2017), and our real lives, with Siri, Fitbits, and virtual reality, present a more organic and seamless merging of people and technology. Our technology’s appearance, as fashionable devices, has somehow made it more insidious in joining with us. The only reason to make an android that precisely duplicates a human (Korby points out Andrea’s natural variations in flesh tone and her pulse) is to fool others or fool ourselves. How much do we even care about separating “real” and “artificial” in an age of alternate facts?

Left: Image from Star Trek episode What Are Little Girls Made Of showing Korby with damaged hand; Right: Image from Star Trek: The Next Generation showing Data with damaged face
What a difference a generation makes

Jurassic Park (1993) raised the question of whether we should do something just because we can. The Federation president similarly says in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991): “Let us redefine progress to mean that just because we can do a thing, it does not necessarily follow that we must do that thing.” Kirk compares Korby to Hitler and Genghis Khan, who destroyed thousands of lives because they could. Today the Zuckerbergs and Bezos and Trumps and Kim Jong Uns of the world do what they can no matter how self-serving and regardless of the impact on others. Contrast Korby’s obsession with secrecy, or today’s autocratic nationalist leaders, with Kirk’s leadership style. Initially, Korby asks Kirk to beam down to Exo-III alone. This violates Kirk’s collaborative approach to decision-making. It works in Kirk’s favor that Korby allows Chapel to join them; as a bioresearch expert, Chapel is qualified to advise him on technical matters in the absence of Spock or McCoy. Forced to act alone, Kirk has no choice but to experiment, planting seeds of disruption that eventually turn the androids against each other.

Kirk’s most ingenious move is to implant a virus into his robotic duplicate. Just as his consciousness is copied, he says, “Mind your own business, Mr. Spock, I’m sick of your half-breed interference, do you hear?” The android absorbs this sentiment, who uses the line on Spock, alerting the first officer to trouble. This is a brilliant insight into the Kirk-Spock dynamic. Kirk understands that Spock will immediately identify this coded distress signal, just as he will understand the hours-vs-days exchange in Star Trek II. Spock knows that, despite McCoy and others’ disturbing use of “half-breed” insults, Kirk would never stoop to such levels. The line only works between these two characters. They not only trust each other, but also their own understanding of the other. By betraying Spock’s trust, android-Kirk really betrays himself. The androids might trick their way through a cursory medical exam or day-to-day social interactions, but they can’t defeat the trust and camaraderie that satisfy both the emotional expectations of humans and the logical requirements of Vulcans.

Image from Star Trek episode What Are Little Girls Made Of showing Kirk, Spock, and Chapel
Here’s looking at you, Spock

That trust is what finally distinguishes humans from androids in “What Are Little Girls Made of?” How do we decide who, and what, to trust? Our characters want to trust Korby because of his reputation; he was something of a celebrity scientist along the lines of Einstein or Hawking (“I’ve always wanted to meet him,” Kirk says). His behavior forces them to revise their attitudes; Korby has gone off the rails and is no longer the man he used to be. This mad scientist stereotype might seem to endorse our current dark days of anti-science, but it’s really the opposite. Korby may have gone astray, but his earlier immunization techniques remain valid. This distinction isn’t so clear here in the 21st century: today’s anti-vaxxers and flat-earthers have allowed themselves to be falsely programmed to equate science with lack of trust in a cabal of sinister individuals. They fail to understand that science is not names or faces, but a process that demands data, reproducibility, and revisions based on new evidence. The Enterprise crew misplaces their trust at first, but are quickly reminded of what they have learned in previous real-world encounters: they can always trust each other. The androids, on the other hand, demonstrate that they don’t trust each other, and probably couldn’t learn trust over any length of time. Unlike Kirk and Spock, they lack the ability to imagine the perspectives of others, and so will never understand the reciprocal nature of trust. It must be earned.

It should be no surprise that Chapel decides to stay with the Enterprise in the end. Her heart may be broken, but she is made of stronger stuff than sugar and spice. Chapel’s feelings for Spock, accidentally revealed in “The Naked Time” and free to blossom with the loss of Korby, are certainly a factor. More importantly, this episode has confirmed the centrality of loyalty and trust to identity, something she may have only suspected up till now. Free to choose, she has found the people she can trust.

Next: Miri