Upper Limits, TOS: S1E3 “Where No Man Has Gone Before”

The second pilot produced, but actually the third episode to air, “Where No Man Has Gone Before” challenges the limits of our human experience, both intellectually and emotionally.   While exploring, the Enterprise stumbled across the old black box recorder of the starship Valiant, which carried evidence of the ship’s ill fate two hundred years prior.  Although the probe made references to ‘extrasensory perception’ and the ‘edge of the galaxy’, it lacked information on what eventually became of the ship.  Kirk tasked his crew to investigate the area where the Valiant disappeared and hopefully resolve the mystery.

Once at the galaxy’s edge, the Enterprise is hit by a strange storm, whose white light strikes both Dr. Elizabeth Dehner and Gary Mitchell.  At first, Mitchell was the only one visibly affected, exhibiting glowing silver eyes and uncanny supernatural abilities.  Later, it is revealed that Dehner was transformed as well, but the effects took longer to manifest.

Watching Mitchell become exponentially more powerful throughout the episode was the main focus.  He essentially acquired the super powers in a Fantastic Four-style accident, but instead of having one finite life changing power, his ‘gift’ amplifies out of control.  Given the ending, it is apparent that this episode wanted to tell a cautionary tale of the dangers of unlimited power.  However, it is also a story exploring the limits of human possibility.  It was unfortunate that both Mitchell and Dehner died so quickly after obtaining their powers, and we never see how great they would have become, or if there would be an ultimate limit to their strength.  Mitchell said himself that he was the beginning of a new kind of human being.  This might have been a human with a very different anatomy from ours, because the powers he was displaying would require an amazing restructuring of the brain, and likely a massive change in personality.

One scene that stood out for me in particular was when Mitchell was speed reading.  He was able to read large amounts of text constantly faster and faster, which reminded me of when I try to speed read.  As an avid reader, I have looked into speed reading to get through my books faster.  Many services help in training the eye to scan words faster and faster, which is the first step in obtaining the information from the page, but our brain is limited in how fast it can process this information.  No matter how many words one can ‘see’ in a given time, we will always be limited by how many words our brain can physically comprehend at once.  Like our built-in limitation with reading comprehension, would there have been a built-in limitation for Mitchell?

The possibilities for his new talents were exciting for Mitchell, but no one would observe the limits to his power.  The Garden of Eden scene at the end of the episode seemed fitting to symbolize the birth of a new human species…and its fall.  Ironically, having gained ultimate wisdom and power, the new Adam and Eve were already more godlike than human.  By this point, Kirk had reached his own emotional limits at the thought of executing his old friend, but he trusted Spock’s judgment.  Their battle ends with Mitchell falling into his own trap, after Dehner betrays him, illustrating that our emotional convictions can be just as limiting.

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