|Show||Star Trek: The Original Series|
|Episode Title||“What Are Little Girls Made Of?”|
|Air Date||October 20, 1966|
|Written By||Robert Block|
A search for the missing scientist Roger Korby (Michael Strong) brings the Enterprise to Exo III, an all-but-abandoned planet. Beneath the planet’s surface, Kirk and Nurse Chapel (Korby’s lovelorn fiance and Gene Roddenberry’s wife, Majel Barrett) find a few very sophisticated androids and a crazy Korby who duplicates Kirk into an android. To escape Korby, Kirk must reason with the other androids, Ruk (Ted Cassidy) and Andrea (Sherry Jackson), talking them into rebelling against their master.
Let’s Dig Deeper into What Are Little Girls Made Of?
One more trope checked off that list! This time: androids aspiring to be more human. This becomes a running theme throughout Star Trek: The Next Generation with the exploration of Data’s character (see: “Measure of a Man” and “The Offspring” in particular). Or The Doctor in Star Trek: Voyager (see: “Lifesigns” and “Latent Image”). In this case, it’s less of an argument than a deception. Throughout TNG, we’ll see a continual discussion of whether or not it’s possible for an android to be truly sentient. It forces us to wrestle with the question of what makes us all human. What does it mean to be human? Why are we alive and what is our purpose on this Earth? You know, light thoughts. I can’t wait to get there.
For example, Kirk talks about indulging in a good meal, as only humans can. “Eating is a pleasure, sir. Unfortunately, one you will never know.” The android cannot comprehend this, lauding survival over temporal pleasures. “Perhaps. But I will never starve, sir.” We, the viewer, are supposed to shake our heads at the silly android who will never enjoy a meal. Because I’ve seen TNG, I can only think of Data. Who would give anything to enjoy a meal.
Here, those questions are still present, though not yet as profound as we’ll get later. “What are Little Girls Made Of?” focuses more on the surface. Asking whether or not we can tell the difference between androids and humans. For they can laugh and eat and drink and kiss, just like we can (Chapel dismisses her, accurately as a “mechanical geisha”). However, there’s something missing. These androids are missing a soul. Andrea and Ruk are intentionally inhuman. Ruk through his look and Andrea through her flat character. Meanwhile, though Korby, whose revelation as an android is still somewhat surprising, is incredibly sophisticated. He’s seriously so crazy by the end. This mixes the message in the end.
The message would have been much clearer and more poignant if Korby hadn’t gone mad, but left Exo III to join the larger Federation community. Here, it’s still got that tried-and-true science fiction refrain. Technology is bad. This makes it much more Terminator than it does The Next Generation or Voyager.
What I do greatly enjoy here is Kirk outwitting the androids around him. Even when he’s backed into a corner, he still manages to get a grip on that upper hand and pull himself out of it. At the first opportunity, when Korby is instructing Ruk not to harm Christine, Kirk suggests that Ruk cannot disobey Chapel’s orders, clearly planting a seed that he’ll use later, if need be. He plays mind games by planting racist insults toward Spock in his copy’s subconscious (even though they hurt Spock’s feelings) with the androids, saying, “Mind your own business, Mister Spock. I’m sick of your half-breed interference! Do you hear?” He’s doing this to plant a suggestion in the android-Kirk’s mind so that he’ll be able to expose the android later.
This isn’t too clear upon the on first watch, and I appreciate the subtlety. I also appreciate that this exposes Kirk and Spock’s closeness. Kirk would never use such an “unsophisticated” term like half-breed. McCoy would, though…
Korby urges Kirk to take his offer of seeming immortality, having his consciousness transferred into an android. Kirk will have none of it, for he would have to give up exactly what makes him human. Mortality, love, and loss. So Korby foists that choice upon Kirk.
KORBY: “In android form, a Human being can have practical immortality. Can you see what I’m offering mankind?”
KIRK: “Programming – different word, but the same old promises made by Genghis Khan, Julius Caesar, Hitler…”
KORBY: “Can you imagine how life could be improved if we could do away with jealousy, greed, hate?”
KIRK: “It can also be improved by eliminating love, tenderness, sentiment. The other side of the coin, doctor.”
Just because problems would cease by the removal of those emotions doesn’t mean that we pursue that course of action. On the contrary, being human is dealing with those things. Korby does think that passing as a human is the same thing as being one – but the planet was populated entirely by androids when Kirk and Chapel arrive, it wasn’t until actual humans arrive that their perfect little mechanical utopia is put to the test, quickly imploding.
Other smaller things blur this message, like Andrea as the quintessential Star Trek sex-symbol. She’s barely clothed, with just a bit of fabric wrapped around her chest. She’s ordered to make out with Kirk just to prove a point. She has utterly no character. The last bit I can handle because she’s supposed to be an imperfect android, but the rest just seems to play into the exact same, already tired, sexism that TOS is known for.
Random Thoughts on Star Trek
Robert Bloch wrote “What are Little Girls Made Of?” This is the first of three episodes that he would write, and each one got progressively darker and stranger: “Catspaw” (which is one of the worst episodes of Star Trek, ever) and “Wolf in the Fold” (starring Piglet). This is his strongest entry in Star Trek. He’s probably best known for writing the novel Pscyho, which Alfred Hitchcock would adapt brilliantly.
Robert Bloch also introduced a slight Lovecraftian reference here, with Ruk referring to “The Old Ones” who made him long ago (“Catspaw” will also make this same reference). H.P. Lovecraft isn’t an author I’ve explored too much – there’s not enough time for everything! – but I do know about Cthulhu. You can read more about them here.
I love that the ultra-scientific method of creating a Kirk android is to put him, naked (I should do a shirtless Kirk count…) on a table and spin him around really fast!
This is the first episode to feature Majel Barrett’s Nurse Christine Chapel in more than an ancillary role (she’s first seen prominently in “The Naked Time”). She would go on to become a Star Trek staple, voicing the Computer in every series of Star Trek except Discovery, because she passed away in 2008. She’s delightful as Lwaxana Troi, Deanna Troi’s mother, in both The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. However, Barrett is always too awkward for me as Chapel, cast because of Roddenberry’s affections for her (they carried on an affair starting before “The Cage,” in which she played Number One, and then he cast her here, not marrying her until 1969 – he was married until earlier that year). Shatner and Barrett do have good chemistry here, a mentor reassuring his student throughout this traumatic process.
Ted Cassidy’s Ruk is one of the better one-off sympathetic villains in Star Trek. He’s so memorable, and his voice and size lend to him an innate stature and distinction that works so well here. Ruk is an android, yes, but he’s also very alien. It brings to mind the casting of Doug Jones as Saru in Star Trek Discovery–his tall, thin frame just makes him stand out as being so very different from everyone else on the crew.
Finally, this episode begins our redshirt trope: the barely-named security guards sent to protect Kirk and Chapel die quickly and without ceremony, bringing our Redshirt Count to 2.
I do like the questions that this episode raises, but I’m left wanting by some of the answers. Star Trek is still in its infancy here, so we’ll get those answers with more strength and thought soon enough. Enjoy this episode for what it is: a fun exploration of what it means to be human, and then come to your own conclusions.
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