I was a fairly quiet geeky child and a self-identified feminist from around the age of nine. While I became the proud owner of the complete boxed sets of both said show and Firefly as soon as they became available, my experience with Star Trek growing up was more sporadic: I saw the occasional TOS or TNG episode here and there. I liked them, but I was in my early twenties when I really got into Trek.
Having been primed for how amazingly progressive it was – how it changed the “face” of television with its enlightened diversity and provided a hopeful vision of equality in the future – it will probably come as no surprise that the rampant sexism on the show took me aback. I adored Nichelle Nichols and appreciated the occasional moments of glory for Uhura, but almost every other woman in the show was relegated to the duties of the yeoman – bringing Kirk coffee and things to sign in miniskirts – or else defined by their often-hopeless attachment to a male character (including but not limited to Chapel/Rand).
I still loved the show and had to remind myself that while I didn’t need to excuse it for being the 60s, the 60s were a reality. The frustration and copious face-palms of TOS’s treatment of female characters made the Edith Keelers of that universe all the more glorious and refreshing. None shined brighter for me than that of Dr. Miranda Jones of my all-time favorite TOS episode: “Is There in Truth no Beauty?”
Dr. Jones exemplifies a strong, intelligent, ambitious character with an interesting arc that spans the course of her episode. She displays no hesitation in challenging the men on the Enterprise and takes absolutely zero of their bullshit, while remaining professional. When McCoy laments her stay on Vulcan as “joyless,” she wastes no time in countering: “Joy can be many things, doctor.”
She challenges Kirk’s definition of beauty, getting him to admit to a “human prejudice,” thereby introducing the episode’s particularly interesting theme: “What is ugly? Who is to say whether Kollos is too ugly to bear, or too beautiful to bear?” She refuses a male escort to accompany her to her room, as apparently she is perfectly capable of walking alone. She also treats Kirk professionally and politely in the arboretum, while he ridiculously and fruitlessly attempts to seduce her. She counters his advances with cool logic, losing her cool only when she discovers his motive.
In the dining room scene, we see an all-too recognizable experience of Miranda being the only woman at the table, while they are served their dinner by short-skirted yeomen. The men around her joke about her being too beautiful for the assignment and actually say that they are surprised the male population of the federation “let” (yes, let) her go, and when Kirk toasts her, he does not celebrate her intelligence, education or the fact that she can do things most humans cannot, but her beauty (which, I get it… Diana Muldaur is absolutely stunning… but come on!).
Dr. Jones takes it all in stride, jabbing back and challenging their logic. One of my favorite lines is her response to McCoy’s suggestion that they might not “allow” her to work with a creature so ugly: “How can one so full of joy and the love of life as you, Doctor, condemn yourself to look upon disease and suffering for the rest of your life? Can we allow that, gentlemen?”
Unlike many other TOS women, Miranda is shown to be a capable psychologist and telepath. Her telepathy is not portrayed as magical, as these sort of powers often are, with female characters in particular. She is shown to have a complicated relationship to them, having worked incredibly hard studying on Vulcan in order to control them. Spock even acknowledges that her telepathic abilities are superior to his.
However, Miranda’s competence leads her femininity to be called into question. When trying to win her favor, Larry bemoans and mocks her capability: “The great psychologist. “Why don’t you try being a woman for a change?” However, we get no sense that Jones believes that her job, intelligence or competence in any way detracts from her being a woman.
Although Miranda treats Larry in somewhat of a patronizing way, this scene also demonstrates her competency as a doctor. Despite her own propensity to shut out emotions, we can see her softening herself for the sake of her “patient.” From this scene, I could see her working with people without the harsh judgement Spock outwardly gives, even if internally she feels that judgement.
In addition, she shows no hesitation when it comes to using her expertise. When they go to engineering to stop Larry in his madness, Miranda insists on coming and Kirk at first refuses (we can assume to be chivalrous/protective). Miranda implores him about her abilities being necessary for this situation and it takes only a split second for him to change his mind.
In addition to her strength, intelligence and capability, Miranda is a perfectly flawed character. For me, this is incredibly important: perfect women, even when strong, make boring characters that people of no gender identity can relate to.
Miranda’s ambition, jealousy and hatred of pity not only present her as incredibly complicated, but serve the arc her character goes through. We see the first sign of jealousy toward Spock when she confronts him about turning down her assignment with Kollos. She smiles when he displays regret, and her smile fades when he asks to meet the ambassador. The thing I like about Miranda’s jealousy is that it could have easily gone in the direction of a bad, female stereotype, but is presented as human rather than feminine, such as when Spock says, “In some ways she is still most human, captain, particularly in the depth of her jealousy.”
If anything, the more feminine stereotype of jealousy in this episode actually resides within Larry. It is he, not Miranda, who can’t control his emotions from romantic jealousy. His jealousy and her aloofness encapsulate a gender role reversal in that relationship.
Miranda’s conquering of her jealousy in the end completes a fully developed character arc. Although Kirk implores her, ultimately she must make the choice to save Spock’s life, and at the end her thanks to Kirk shows her taking responsibility for her actions.
While I could go on and on about her strengths, flaws and complexity, my absolute favorite thing about Miranda Jones is how she relates to, and ultimately acts as a foil for Spock. The two have a several obvious things in common: some abilities over other humans, preference for the logical and contempt of the sentimental. However, their bond goes far deeper than that.
By this time, we have learned from “Journey to Babel” what life was like for Spock growing up on Vulcan as a half-human. Other Vulcan children terrorized him for not being Vulcan enough and his decision to join Starfleet strained his relationship with his father. I can’t help but wonder what Miranda’s time on Vulcan was like. In a way, her resentment of Spock reminds me of Spock’s resentment of Sarek. Their shoulders share a chip. These deep connections make me wonder whether Spock celebrates her abilities and treats her with more patience than others because he sees himself in her.
Their reconciliation and sharing of the IDIC at the end has an incredibly resonant resolution for each character, and of course both actors knock that scene out of the park. I love how unlike many other women, Miranda acts as a foil for Spock and deepens our understanding of his character without that being her sole purpose. She’s not just there to make him grow; she has her own story, development, motivation and arc.
I’ll end by singing the praises of Miranda’s gown and Diana Muldaur. I absolutely love the sensor dress, which is one of the more interesting pieces of the science part of science fiction in TOS and could even be a forerunner to Geordi’s visor. But I never quite understood its function or limitations: why wouldbe able to sense Spock’s IDIC but not be able to fly the ship?
Diana Muldaur brings the perfect balance of strength and vulnerability to the character. Her performance in the scene in sickbay with Spock when she is without the sensor gown harkens to Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark, and her delivery of every quip balances professionalism with an in-your-face bluntness. Finally, this episode wins with Spock’s line: “Are you surprised to find that I’ve read Byron, Doctor?”