Star Trek/Recap/S3/E24 Turnabout Intruder

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Series:Star Trek the Original Series
Episode: Season 3, Episode 24
Title:"Turnabout Intruder"
Previous: All Our Yesterdays
Next: Star Trek the Motion Picture
Recapper: Hello999

The last episode of the original Star Trek series. It's known for being the most overtly sexist episode of the show and certainly not a worthy Series Finale. But hey, it's not the last we'll be hearing from these characters.

Alternatively, you may regard it as the Star Trek version of Freaky Friday.

The Enterprise goes to some planet to rescue the two survivors of a doomed archaeological expedition. Dr. Arthur Coleman seems to be fine, but Dr. Janice Lester is unconscious. (One wonders if the writers forgot there used to be another "Janice" on this show or if they averted One Steve Limit on purpose.) Shock of shocks, Dr. Lester turns out to be an ex-girlfriend of Kirk. After Kirk is left alone with her, she comes to and they chat about olden times. It becomes apparent that they had some serious Belligerent Sexual Tension going on back in the day.

And then Lester says a line. Among Trekkies, the meaning of this line is as hotly contested as the meaning of the Second Amendment. The line is, "Your world of starship captains doesn't admit women." So does the utopian Federation have a glass ceiling on starship captaincy? A popular alternative reading is that it refers to Kirk being unable to carry on his relationship with her after he became captain of the Enterprise. This does make sense within the context of just this scene, but makes the rest of the episode somewhat nonsensical. The offical Retcon seems to be that Lester is just insane, which is very much supported by the rest of the episode. This does raise the question of why Kirk agreed with her, but perhaps he's just tired of having that argument. Or maybe Kirk incorrectly interpreted it as the alternative reading. Whatever. In any case, the idea that women can't be starship captains is never mentioned again and there was later an entire series about one.

Janice Lester plugs Kirk into an ancient machine which causes a Freaky Friday Flip. Now in Kirk's body, Lester quickly reveals herself to be Ax Crazy, supplying us with some of Shatner's trademark evil acting. Meanwhile, Lester's body is unconscious once more. Lester-in-Kirk prepares to kill Kirk-in-Lester, but the rest of the landing party walks in at the wrong moment. Lester, of course, pretends to be Kirk, beginning a Tyrant Takes the Helm plot. In Sickbay, Lester-in-Kirk meets with Dr. Coleman, with whom she is in cahoots. It's revealed that Lester murdered her expedition and Coleman was a willing accomplice. Man, does Kirk know how to pick 'em or what? After McCoy and a suddenly brunette Nurse Chapel arrive, Lester-in-Kirk announces that Kirk-in-Lester is being placed under the care of Dr. Coleman. McCoy protests that this violates Starfleet protocol since he is Chief Medical Officer, but Lester-in-Kirk ignores this. By the way, Lester-in-Kirk frankly talks about her scheme in Captains Logs. Does no one ever actually read those things?

After an escape attempt, Kirk-in-Lester is placed in solitary confinement. Spock visits and Kirk-in-Lester explains what happened. Spock performs a Vulcan mind meld, which convinces him, but he notes that it won't count for anything in the way of evidence. Really? Freakin' telepathy isn't considered evidence of a body swap? Really? Granted, only Spock can sense it firsthand and he could lie, but... no wait, he can't lie because he's a Vulcan. What the hell? Spock tries to help Kirk-in-Lester escape, but they're caught and Lester-in-Kirk has Spock charged with mutiny. At a court martial, Spock states his case. Kirk-in-Lester is then questioned in a very condescending, chauvinistic manner by Lester-in-Kirk. Kirk-in-Lester characterizes Lester as a Straw Feminist defined by "her intense hatred of her own womanhood". When Spock refuses to drop his charges, Lester-in-Kirk has a Villainous Breakdown and goes into a yelling tirade. Her new favorite word is "mutiny".

During a recess, McCoy and Scotty discuss the fact that Kirk is Not Himself and agree they'll have to move against him. This becomes an Engineered Public Confession, as the corridor was bugged (rare surveillance competence from Starfleet). Lester-in-Kirk decides she has the authority to pronounce a sentence of death for Spock, McCoy, and Scotty. Sulu and Chekov point out the death penalty is reserved for General Order 4[1], but the Red Shirts are totes okay with this. When Lester-in-Kirk is back on the bridge, she and Kirk's essences briefly switch places again. Realizing the transfer is weakening, Lester-in-Kirk goes to Coleman and tells him to kill Kirk-in-Lester to ensure she won't go back into her own body. They set off to collect Kirk-in-Lester from the brig, but a scuffle ensues. In the midst of it, Kirk and Lester's essences slid back into their own bodies permanently.

Hey, you know how this episode has clearly portrayed Lester as an insane, power-hungry mass murderer? Well, forget about that. She's in a pretty body now and Females Are More Innocent. The episode wraps up with an Alas, Poor Villain ending, in which we learn Coleman was in love with Lester. (So he helped the woman he was in love with turn into a man? What does that say about him?) Kirk delivers the last line of the series: "Her life could have been as rich as any woman's, if only... if only..." The meaning of this line is debated almost as much as the one from earlier. Does "if only" mean "if only she kept to her proper gender role" or "if only society hadn't forced her into a gender role she hated"? Make up your own mind.

This episode's title is a play on the title of Turnabout, a body swap comedy about a husband and wife. For many years, it was a popular bit of Star Trek trivia that Sandra Smith (Dr. Lester) was the only person other than William Shatner to officially portray Captain Kirk. This remained true until 2009. In the world of fanfiction, Dr. Lester wound find a niche in Slash Fic, her story providing a canon setup for Jumping the Gender Barrier. Slashers have also had a lot of fun imagining what Spock saw in his mind meld to convince him Kirk was in Lester's body.

Tropes used in Turnabout Intruder include:
  • Grand Theft Me
  • Plot Hole: Not counting the ones listed in the summary, there's one that became famous due to being cited in the book Star Trek Lives - at one point, Kirk leaves the bridge going the wrong way. (The door is in the opposite direction.) When the episode was filmed, Shatner joked with the director about how, even if it's the last episode, there was no need to throw Kirk into the vacuum of space, and then tried to have the blocking changed (unsuccessfully, though he did accurately predict that the fans would notice).
  • Psycho Ex-Girlfriend: You'd think Kirk would have more of them.
  • We Interrupt This Program: Was a Real Life victim of this trope. Dwight D. Eisenhower died the day "Turnabout Intruder" was originally supposed to air. It didn't air until two months later and, as you can imagine, died in the ratings (of course, the show was already canceled anyway).
  1. They probably meant General Order 7.