#20: The Cloud Minders
In case you forgot: The Enterprise needs to pick up some zenite, a material crucial to ending a botanical plague elsewhere in the Federation, but gets embroiled in a class struggle on Stratos between the city dwellers and the Troglytes. Kirk and Spock arrange peace with the help of miniature gas masks and the power of love, respectively.
Much as I love science fiction silliness, the TOS episodes that deal with cross-cultural differences and struggles without a shred of techno-babble all have a special place in my heart. This includes "The Cloud Minders." TOS was no stranger to dealing with prejudice in these sorts of episodes, but grounding the prejudice in fact (McCoy reports the Troglytes are mentally inferior) suddenly adds a new moral level to it. The fact that it's largely the Troglytes' circumstances—the gas emitted from pure, raw zenite, in this case—that make them so much more violent, rather than an inherent proclivity, is a nice parallel that rings uncomfortably true fifty years later. Someone could have written the episode today, the Aesop is still that relevant.
Watching Plasus get a taste of his own medicine in the zenite mines is nice, though it would have been nicer if he had eaten a phaser blast (he's just that much of a creep). There's also something about the matte painting of the cloud city that's charming. It reminds me of Terry Gilliam's animations for Monty Python, if less surreal.
Droxine's inexplicable attraction to Spock doesn't really sit right with me. Why does she have to fall in love with him to see the merit of his argument for reconciliation with the Troglytes? Oh, right—she's a silly woman. Speaking of women, Kirk's struggle with Vanna, the leader of the Troglytes, gets really uncomfortable really quickly.
This episode had so much potential for a real gut-puncher ending—an armed insurrection that kills Plasus and leaves the grieving but still compassionate and sympathetic Droxine in charge, for example—but ultimately it just kind of peters out.