One Trek Mind #30: Redshirts!
I'm not sure when the term Redshirt actually entered the public lexicon, but by now most people, even some who think Dr. Spock is on Star Track, know that you don't want to be sporting red on an away mission.
Of course, not every piece of nameless cannon fodder on TOS wore red, but when a meme catches on, it catches on big. So much so that noted science fiction author/blogger/personality John Scalzi has written a novel about the existential woe of being on a thinly veiled Enterprise's lower decks entitled “Redshirts.” (You can read an extended excerpt over at Tor.com; click HERE).
To celebrate this new work (which has been getting stellar reviews), we figured there'd be no better time to aim our phasers at our favorite space explorers in red. You may be surprised how many of these folks had names. Note: Family Guy's Ensign Ricky is not on the list!
10 – Ensign O'Herlihy
The opening of “Arena” is a perfect example of how a red shirt may as well be a giant bullseye. As the away team lands on Cestus Three they snap into action upon discovering the destruction.
“Lang, over there! Look for survivors” Kirk barks to a man in gold. “Kelowicz, that way!” he orders a man wearing blue. “O'Herlihy, stick with me,” he says to the man wearing red. A moment later, he gets his only line: “Captain, I see something.”
Next thing you know, he is grimacing, glowing and vaporizing before our eyes. Yes, Lang is also killed by the Gorn's artillery fire, but at least he is granted the dignity to die in our imagination, not roasted in close-up!
9 – Crewman Grant
“Grant, no!” That's what Kirk says to this knucklehead Redshirt who is a little too quick on the draw.
In “Friday's Child,” one of the more-blatant Cold War-parable episodes, an Enterprise away team beams down to Capella Four in the hopes of setting up the Topaline mining agreement. Unfortunately, a Klingon named Kras is already there working on a deal, and he's got natives armed with deadly Kligats at his side.
One could argue that Grant's rash decision to go for his phaser instigated the Capellan attack, or you could say he was just following the rules of engagement. Either way, this Redshirt, whose only line is “A Klingon!” is a clear, walking representation of the Gulf of Tonkin… maybe.
8 – Horta Fodder
Such disrespect. The dude doesn't even have a name, and he's killed by a roving blob of half-digested lasagna. The Horta, the silicon-based lifeform from “Devil in the Dark” (and the villain of Doctor Who-like laughable design) killed over fifty of Chief Vanderberg's men on Janus VI, and one of Captain Kirk's.
A later mind meld with Spock (PAIN!) would show that the pesky Terrans had actually killed thousands of her children, so the death of one blonde Redshirt “who never even had a chance to fire” isn't too bad from a Vulcan-like numbers point of view.
7 – Crewman Hendorff
Mamas don't let your babies grow up to visit Gamma Trianguli VI. Especially if they wear a red shirt.
The away team isn't down on the planet for two minutes in “The Apple” before the deaths start up. Crewman Hendorff gets popped in the chest by a group of killer stamens, which further frightened indoor kids to stay home lest their allergies get the best of them.
Hendorff doesn't just drop dead; he makes a ridiculous face as he does it, earning him a place on this list even if his killer was just a flower.
6 – Lieutenant Mallory
Later in that same episode (and after a lightning-bolt death of another Redshirt), Lieutenant Mallory is rushing back to the group when, whoopsie, he trips up on a rock. Only, it isn't just any rock – it is landmine rock and he explodes into bits.
Lieutenant Mallory's death is one of the most tactile deaths on TOS and, strikingly, only the third of four Redshirts who bite it on Gamma Trianguli VI. “The Apple” was blood red, indeed!
5 – Engineer Olson
During the daring space jump onto the Narada's drill, Kirk is wearing blue, Sulu is wearing gold and some other guy is wearing red. Fans instantly knew who wasn't going to make it.
Of course, he was the one with “the charges.” Why Pike didn't think to give ALL of them charges, just in case, is a question we'll never be able to answer in this or any other reality.
4 – Crewman Compton
This Redshirt from “Wink of an Eye” is actually fairly key to the story. He's the first one to slip into the hyper-accelerated experiential time of the Scalosians. (He catches the bug while collecting water samples – yet another reason to always stay away from open pools of water!) He begins working as something of a protector to Deela in her attempts to take over the Enterprise, but has a change of heart when Kirk is in danger. In the scuffle, Sclaosian Rael cuts him and the resulting nerve damage causes him to age instantaneously, killing him right there on the floor.
3 – Lieutenant Carlisle and the Nomad Three
Few things have wreaked as much havoc on the Enterprise as this floating electric can opener died (in "The Changeling").
He vaporized four different men in red shirts, three of whom didn't even have names. He also kinda killed Scotty for a minute, but brought him back. The worst, though, was when he zapped Uhura's mind such that she had to be re-taught the alphabet. (And in English, too – Nurse Chapel has no use for Swahili!) How she's able to perform the duties of a Starfleet officer by the next episode is something that, I'm sure, is addressed in a Star Trek novel that I haven't read yet.
These men didn't die in vain, however. Lieutenant Carlisle and the Nomad Three is the name of my newest Filk group, making its debut at Peoria FantasyCon later this summer!
2 – Yeoman Leslie Thompson
It should come as no surprise that Rojan the Kelvan in “By Any Other Name” means business. His planet is beyond the Galactic Barrier after all. (“Yes, we've been there,” Kirk snorts.) To prove that he intends to take over the Enterprise any way he can, he sheds a little blood to prove he's serious. And he doesn't just kill willy-nilly, he kills a woman.
Yes, Star Trek was remarkable in its portrayal of equality, but to show a woman getting caught in the interplanetary crossfire must've really been shocking for its day. Plus, she doesn't just get zapped with a phaser – she gets transformed into large dodecahedron of chalk and crushed to death. Crazy.
1 – Sam
Hey, if you were going through puberty, had Thasian powers and Yeoman Rand was walking around in that outfit, you might act like a jerk, too. Hopefully you wouldn't make people vaporize into a nonexistent void, though, as occurred in "Charlie X."
In one of TOS' strangest scenes, Kirk decides that the best way to help the confused Charlie Evans blow off some steam is to go a-wrasslin'. At the gym, Kirk puts on some strikingly tight pants (with the Starfleet insignia at crotch level) and tosses the boy around a bit. In the spirit of good fun, gym rat Sam chuckles a bit at the shoulder rolls and suggestions to “slap the floor,” but Charlie doesn't yet know the difference between “laughing at” and “laughing with.” So, Sam disappears.
It's never quite clear if Sam is killed or if he is restored by the Thasian at the end, but one thing's for certain – if Sam came back, he's getting a Soloflex for his quarters next time.
So you survived! Was your secret wearing blue? Let me know in the comments if your favorite Redshirt escaped execution.
Jordan Hoffman is a freelance writer, critic and independent film producer living in New York City. He fell in love with Star Trek through TOS reruns just as TNG was getting ready to launch. On his BLOG, Jordan has reviewed all 727 Trek episodes and films, most of the comics and some of the novels. He has a funny story about the one time he met Leonard Nimoy. Click HERE to follow him on Twitter.