Inner Ugly, TOS: S3E5 “Is There in Truth No Beauty”

“Who says that fictions only and false hair become a verse? Is there in truth no beauty?” claims one of George Herbert’s most famous poems: Jordan (I). Herbert was referring to the art of poetry and how poets often seem to focus on fictional subjects for their work. Reality, according to Herbert, offers many beautiful truths just as worthy of our attention. Confronting our own inner demons is one such necessary truth, which is often not quite so beautiful.

Kirk and crew encounter some profound truths when the Enterprise is tasked with transporting a Medusan ambassador. The Medusans are apparently so ugly that to look at one would drive a human mad. Everyone must wear special protective goggles to be able to stand the sight of ambassador Kollos, who is kept in a reinforced box until needed. Ambassador Kollos is travelling with his assistant, the psychologist Dr. Jones, who is working to create a mind link with the Medusan. As a fellow telepath, she develops an instant rapport with Spock. Her telepathic powers also tip her off as to the intentions of a potential murderer aboard the Enterprise. Lawrence Marvick, an ensign I swear I’ve never seen before, tries to murder Kollos, but is exposed to the alien and loses his mind instead. The unhinged extra babbles to Kirk about being safe and not sleeping as he steers the Enterprise toward the edge of the galaxy at warp 9.5.

Lost in a strange part of intergalactic space, Kirk and crew must rely on Ambassador Kollos’s knowledge and abilities to get them back home. Dr. Jones is not happy with Spock mind melding with Kollos in order to pilot the ship, as it was her greatest ambition to become one with Kollos. When Dr. McCoy reveals that she is blind and would not be able to navigate a starship, she reluctantly agrees. Kirk and Spock are surprised to find out that Dr. Jones was blind the entire time, as her dress had special sensors which enabled her to ‘see’ as well as anyone else. In Spock’s body, Kollos gets the Enterprise back to their exact origin quickly and easily, and enjoys the sensations of physical form. As Spock was returning Kollos to his box, he forgets the protective glasses and is exposed. Kirk accuses Dr. Jones of telepathically sabotaging Spock due to her jealousy, but now she’s the only one who can save him. It was Kirk’s condemnation of Jones’s jealousy as an ugliness within her which eventually pushes her to do the right thing and save Spock. Dr Jones was praised for being such a beautiful woman, but an inner streak of ugliness threatened to overcome her.

Conversely, the Medusans are known to have beautifully profound minds beyond their apparently hideous exterior. It makes sense that a species so focused on its mental capabilities might let its physical appearance wither, but to cultivate something so dangerous to other beings suggests more of a defence mechanism. Star Trek has imagined many alien species that gave up their limited physical bodies to pursue a higher form, existing as a ball of light or a brain, but these were not hideous. If anything, they were benign and generic. The Medusa however, challenges our concepts of truth, beauty, and knowledge. Is ugliness a universally recognized trait or a subjective opinion? Does accepting the true nature of something help us embrace the beauty of the universe?

To determine if truth is beautiful, we must first ask what is truth and what is beauty. Some say a thing is beautiful if it most resembles the patterns found in nature or if it has a symmetrical form. Both of these definitions allude to a sort of truth about beauty, that it is a set of properties which can be defined, even though individual opinions may differ. Truth on the other hand is defined as a property being in accord with reality. Now we are truly limited in our understanding. If truth is related to reality, how do we know what reality is? It is possible to think we have perfect understanding of something, when really it is just misunderstanding. However, it may not be as difficult to assess our own alignment with reality. When something is not working for us, or we become aware of the intense conflict within ourselves, it is possible we have come face to face with an unavoidable inner lie. We may not always be aware of every truth, but we can at least confront the truths we are denying. Dr. Jones found the beauty and truth she was seeking when she finally challenged the ugliness inside her. Life is filled with truth that is difficult to bear, but only by acknowledging and embracing truth can we live our most authentic and beautiful lives.

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