Star Trek: Love in Fake Places

I’ve always liked the original Star Trek’s “This Side of Paradise” from the first season, where the Enterprise crew finds itself shot by tranquilizing spores on an Edenic rural world and forced to have a great time screwing around. I’m also quite fond of the two episodes of The Next Generation when Geordi La Forge has to solve a puzzle with the help of the real or the holographic version of eminent super space scientist Dr. Leah Brahms. I am particularly interested in the second episode of the La Forge-Brahms encounters, as this one, “Galaxy’s Child,” brings us the real Brahms, who is not nearly as interested in the Enterprise’s Chief Engineer as Geordi’s computer version of Brahms had convinced him.

The common theme connecting “This Side of Paradise” and “Galaxy’s Child”/“Booby Trap” is finding love in an impossible place. Spock’s spore encounter on Omicron Ceti III leaves him fully human, it appears, and allows his suppressed emotions to surface. He rekindles interest with an old friend, Leila Kalomi, and in his emotional state the two fall (again? deeper?) in love. In Geordi’s story, he doesn’t really fall in love with anyone: in the first episode, “Booby Trap,” he uses the holodeck to produce a virtual version of Leah Brahms to help him solve his space problem (it works, though I’ll leave the physics of this to another discussion). In the second part (a season later), “Galaxy’s Child,” the real Leah Brahms shows up and Geordi expects her to be as friendly (and interested in him) as her holodeck character.

So, obviously some differences in these two encounters. Spock is essentially drugged, whereas Geordi is in his right mind (or thereabouts). Leila actually did love Spock, while Brahms was already married and shuts down Geordi with crushing finality (to his credit, he says he didn’t know she was married—though I can’t really believe he would miss reading that on her Facebook profile).

Both stories are solid: Spock’s is the more emotional story, and it really is touching to see him fall in love and really be into someone, and be able to enjoy himself. When you see him walking around the ship so stilted every episode, so measured, you really want the Vulcan to get a vacation, and he finally does. A real vacation, from himself. For Geordi, we see the intellectual story, where he has to turn off his heart and get his head in gear to solve the problem—including working with someone he had been interested in who really dislikes him (at least initially).

What’s interesting, though, is that both these stories ask a similar question, despite having completely different appeals and conclusions. Both episodes ask us, is it better to live in the dream or better to occupy your own depressing reality? If Spock stayed on Omicron Happyland III or whatever, would he have been Spock anymore? Or just a recovering half-Vulcan? And though this is a bit of a stretch, Geordi might never have met the real Leah Brahms, and clung instead to his holodeck idea of her—perhaps going to Barclayian lengths (Dwight Schultz is really the best) to live out a holodeck fantasy with fake Leah (I would be happy to write this episode arc).

But, on some level, both characters realize that to choose love or the idea of love over the reality of work and fellowship is to choose the false thing for the true. And though these episodes are very different, they both involved recognizing that a thing can be false or incorrect for oneself, even if it’s not an impossibility. Both choose the responsibility and dulness of reality—working with colleagues—to a lover’s fantasy. Because neither of them are lovers, and to be so would change them too much, they realize (perhaps subconsciously). Thus despite the buried desires that surface in these episodes, both Spock and Geordi keep their covenants with their true selves. In fact, neither one ever ends up in a substantial relationship with anyone—about the fullest commitment you can make to your identity.