(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: November 29, 1968
Crew Death Count: 1 (Compton the security officer)
Bellybuttons: 0 (but Deela sports a disco-friendly one-legged jumpsuit)
“Wink of an Eye” was written by Gene L. Coon, who “liberated” the premise from his own prior work, “The Night of the Burning Diamond,” a 1966 episode of The Wild Wild West (1965-1969). This week, the Enterprise responds to a distress call – oh, no, didn’t we just fall for this last week? – from the planet Scalos. (How does the Federation know the planet’s name but nothing about the inhabitants?) Upon arrival, the landing party of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and redshirt Compton (Geoffrey Binney) finds a highly developed city, apparently abandoned except for those annoying insects buzzing around. Compton disappears before their eyes, and after the others return to the ship, the Enterprise is soon controlled by the source of the buzzing, the last five surviving Scalosians, who exist at such an accelerated rate they are invisible to everyone in normal time.
The idea of a society living in accelerated time is intriguing but poorly implemented here. The sixth season Voyager episode “Blink of an Eye” is a far better presentation of the concept. The most glaring distraction is the failure of the Scalosians to age in proportion to their time scale. They should age before our eyes, yet by the end of the episode they appear no different than the beginning. Only Compton ages rapidly as the result of an infected cut, again repeating a plot element from the previous episode. When Compton disappeared into Scalosian-time on the planet, it was a result of drinking the Scalosian water; it turns out the distorted timeframe was caused by radiation released into the water supply by volcanic eruptions. The same radiation caused the Scalosian men to become sterile. This led to the Scalosians’ near-extinction – one of the Scalosian men, Gael (Jason Evers), describes the planet as having been home to “several culturally enlightened indigenous populations.” In response to their dire circumstances, the Scalosians devised a bizarre plan of luring interstellar travelers with whom the women can mate and bear children. The Scalosian “queen” Deela (Kathie Browne) implies this has been going on for a long time (“They all go so soon,” Deela says regarding her prior lovers), but apparently with little success, considering the Scalosians are down to five and ultimately fail in their scheme with the Enterprise.
Besides the aging conundrum, other aspects of the hyper-life don’t add up. Characters in real-time move around inconsistently, so that we never get confirmation of exactly how fast the Scalosians are moving. It seems that they would become visible to the Enterprise crew at some point, as when they pause for a conversation or when Deela and Kirk enjoy quiet time together, wink, wink. How did the Scalosians beam up with the landing party without being detected? How do inanimate objects – clothes, for example – keep up with the accelerated individuals? And it’s hard not to laugh when Kirk fires a phaser at Deela and she easily sidesteps the slow-moving beam. As many other reviewers have pointed out, the phaser beam would advance at the speed of light, which is approximately 300,000 km/sec (186,000 miles/sec). If the Scalosians are actually moving so fast that they can outrun light, the laws of physics would do quite a number on their physical bodies.
Other than the one takeaway from Compton’s experience – don’t drink the water in unfamiliar lands – “Wink of an Eye” boils down to another first contact with no meaningful learning. Deela immediately chooses Kirk as her desired mating partner – what half-dressed interstellar female wouldn’t do the same? Deela describes the captain as “pretty” and he’s clearly the leader. Deela is a leader herself, describing herself as the Scalosian queen, despite having a dramatically diminished queendom. She gets about halfway toward understanding Kirk’s personality. “You’re married to your career,” Deela says, “and you never look at another woman.” Kirk’s response: “If she’s pretty enough, I’ll look.” (Hit the road, ugly women!) After their intimate encounter – not shown but confirmed by the couple making themselves presentable after – Kirk appears docile, and Deela’s response calls to mind “The Enemy Within.” “I liked you better before,” she says, “stubborn, and irritating, and independent, like Rael.” This is the only real insight we get into Rael’s personality, and we see Rael’s stubbornness in his anger when Deela and Kirk seem to hit it off.
The plan is to put the remainder of the Enterprise crew into a type of deep freeze to serve as mating stock later; until his death, Compton is the intended mate for the one other Scalosian female. This character is so trivial we don’t even learn her name, but Compton turns out to be the real villain. He has become inexplicably brainwashed by the Scalosians and assists them in taking over the Enterprise. (Kirk determines that men become docile in accelerated time, but Compton’s conversion is too fast to be justifiable.) Thankfully, Kirk is immune to such traitorous ways, so when he sleeps with Deela it is entirely about emotional manipulation for the good of the ship, honest. None of this explains why the Scalosians haven’t come up with a better plan in the face of obvious failure.
With the exception of Compton’s ignorance in drinking the water followed by his outright traitorous conduct, the crew generally performs as we’ve come to expect. McCoy develops a cure to the hyper-accelerant radiation to bring Kirk, followed by Spock, back to real-time. The bridge crew reminds us of their love of coffee, something we haven’t seen for a while – Kirk’s coffee is secretly laced with a sample of Scalosian water, while Scott, Sulu, and the others get the regular supply. After Kirk is forced into hyper-accelerated life, Spock soon follows voluntarily to find some answers – Kirk is barely surprised when he encounters Spock in the corridors, trusting, as always, that his colleagues will come through. When Deela justifies her actions by saying, “We have a right to survive,” Kirk reiterates the TOS life-first philosophy by responding, “Not by killing others.”
“Wink of an Eye” has some parallels to “By Any Other Name”: a technologically advanced society facing extinction tries to enslave the Enterprise crew but instead finds themselves being manipulated by the very weaknesses inherent in humans. It is only Deela’s sappy emotions and Gael’s jealousy that give Kirk and Spock the time and opportunity to retake the ship. The ending, however, is so heartless, that the episode feels incomplete. McCoy has developed a cure for the hyper-acceleration; Kirk and Spock return safely to real-time. But they don’t share it with the Scalosians! Instead, Kirk bids farewell to Deela, who, despite her insistence that her species faces imminent demise, departs with a smile and a shrug. Is there a Prime Directive case against sharing the serum? That would make sense, but it’s never mentioned in the episode.
A different, more sinister interpretation is that “Wink of an Eye” can be seen as an anti-feminism episode. Consider that Deela leads a matriarchy where the men wind up not only impotent, but subservient. A lot of people in the 1960s must have felt, like the Scalosians, that life was changing too quickly to keep up with. Bob Dylan wrote in 1964, “There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’, It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls, For the times they are a-changin’.” Many men were clearly threatened as women became more prominent in the workforce and demonstrated for equal treatment: between 1960 and 1970, women went from 33.4% of the U.S. civilian labor force to 38.1%. Small wonder that the Scalosian queen introduces herself to Kirk as “Deela, the enemy.” Deela is sexually aggressive yet independent – look how easily she sidesteps Kirk’s attempt to subdue her with the phaser. We’ve seen Kirk’s opposition to matriarchal societies in the past, so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised when he sends the last five Scalosians to their doom. The Enterprise crew has become a roadblock to the same progress they normally champion.
That leads directly into the greatest frustration with “Wink of an Eye”: it leaves no room for a happy ending. Even at its lowest moments, TOS gave us something upbeat in its resolutions. Miramanee may have died at the end of “The Paradise Syndrome,” but in her sacrifice her society was saved. Even “Balance of Terror,” with the death of the Romulan crew, offered a potential olive branch between two feuding cultures. With the small comfort that future travelers will be warned of the risk of approaching Scalos, “Wink of an Eye” doesn’t even try to cheer us. While Kirk puts another notch on his bedpost, Scalos and its “culturally enlightened indigenous populations” will be lost to history. Failed logistics of accelerated living may be the episode’s most obvious sin, but its real offense is a failure to do what Star Trek has always done best: give us faith that the journey is worth the risk in the first place.
Next: The Empath