Sunday, August 23, 2009

Steve Ihnat in Whom Gods Destroy

The Star Trek episode "Whom Gods Destroy" is not my favorite episode by any means -- it is certainly flawed and rather weak, frankly. But it does contain my favorite performance by a guest star in an ST episode, and that of course is Steve Ihnat as Garth of Izar.

Critics of the episode are divided, as you might expect. Some think Ihnat gives a great performance, others think he overacts and wasn't at all frightening. Of course, I'm in the first category.

The problem with the character of Garth of Izar actually comes from William Shatner's portrayal of him in the tantrum scene. Shatner has him pounding on a counter, on his two friends, etc. -- all very well and good, and what anyone who is very, very angry would do. Then he falls to his knees, but instead of pounding on the ground with both hands, pounds with alternate hands, like a child. That's just too childish for Garth, and that's what lessens his ability to be frightening.

What's fun about Steve's portrayal of Garth is that you will never see him play any other role this flamboyant and cheerful, either before or since. However, there are traces of the characterization in his role as Tyler, in the 1965 episode of Daniel Boone, "Perilous Journey", in which he plays a British assassin - who ends up getting shot by Daniel Boone's wife.

I've been surfing the web, and found a few reviews of Steve's performance. One blogger says that
"He reads as very, very gay, too. I'm trying not to stereotype from his flamboyant manner; it's also his indifference to Marta except as a sign of his power, his obsession with winning Kirk over (even to the point of naming him heir apparent), and his dislike of Kirk and Spock's mutual loyalty."

And I disagree completely.

If you keep your eye on Garth's face, in the scene where Marta is dancing, and when she's running her hands over his neck, etc., at all times he's gazing at her like he's really, really, really turned on. When she starts fondling Kirk, he is clearly angry that she's doing so.

Click on the photos for larger views.

Can't quite catch his breath....

(If you were watching the actual episode, you'd see him try to breathe here...)

As for his obsession with "winning Kirk over," um...he's trying to get off the planet, Kirk has the countersign he needs...what else is he supposed to do?

As for "his dislike of Kirk and Spock's mutual loyalty," I'm not sure about that. It seemed like this was put in as a someehat heavy-handed plea for racial tolerance. Kirk regards himself and Spock as brothers... when Spock annoys Garth, he calls him an "animal" - a somewhat humanist/racist thing to say, because it must be remembered that in the original Star Trek, Spock is the first Vulcan to serve with humans on a star ship, and is, indeed, the only alien on board the ship (that we see, anyway.) So although the Federation has integrated mankind successfully, they have not yet integrated the alien species they encountered in their explorations...and Garth was one of those explorers.

Other flaws in the episode have to be explained away by a little "fan-fictionizing."

Since Kirk doesn't know about Garth's shape-shifting abilities, why does he have that "sign, countersign" thing in place? Well, because they're in orbit around an insane asylum, and it was probably standard protocol to have such a password in place at those times, and indeed anytime a starship would be over a planet in the throes of warfare, etc, so that unauthorized personnel couldn't gain access to the Enterprise by threatening the crew.

Since Garth can metamorphosize his molecules, why does his clothes keep changing as well? To me, all you have to do is look at the scenes when he switches from one form to another. The whole screen goes black for a split second. To me this means that Garth is actually controlling people's minds, as well as his own shape. He shifts shapes to whatever he wants to be, and he controls other people's minds so they see him with the appropriate clothing.

Why does Garth turn into Kirk so that Spock won't know who's who, when Garth has a phaser and knows Spock is heading for the command room? Well, because there was only ten minutes left in the episode, and events had to be moved along.

In the filming of the episode, Spock was actually supposed to discern between the two Kirks by asking a question that only Kirk would know, but since a Star Trek episode always had to end with a fight between Kirk and somebody, the writers changed it so that's how this episode would end. (An event that caused Nimoy to complain, but of course to no avail.) And, of course, if Spock had just phasered both of them, the unconscious Garth would have reverted to his true form, without the need for a fight. But perhaps it was simply illegal for Spock to shoot his captain, even if it would only cause unconsciousness. As for the rest, perhaps Spock just clinically wanted to see if Kirk could physically defeat Garth.

And, as an aside, I prefer to think Garth didn't actually kill Marta. Remember we never see her die, the explosion totally obscured her, so she's probably dragged back inside the base and rescuscitated. All Garth was trying to do was make Kirk give up the countersign, but Kirk will not sacrified the many for the needs of the one.

For more, check out Star Trek: Whom Gods Destroy, and fan fiction of the history of Garth of Izar, The Madness of Garth of Izar.

And to see Steve "starring" in a music video, check out "Let Joy and Innocence Prevail."

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