The Return of the Archons (Star Trek: The Original Series) Review

Spock, you've gotten into a bad habit as of late. Habit? Get it?

Spock, you’ve gotten into a bad habit as of late. Habit? Get it?

Episode: The Return of the Archons – Season 1, Episode 21 (1967)

Director: Joseph Pevney

Teleplay: Boris Sobelman

Story: Gene Roddenberry

The Enterprise drops by Beta III to find out what happened to the Archon, a ship that disappeared in the system almost a century before. Instead, in the tradition of tourists everywhere, Kirk and the gang perpetrate the greatest crime of all: violation of the Prime Directive![1]

The episode opens with Sulu on the surface with Lt. O’Neil (Sean Morgan), running from robed assailants on what looks like an empty Midwestern street. Because that’s what you do in a first contact situation: send your helmsman with some panicky NCO. It doesn’t take Miss Cleo to predict which one makes it back to the ship.

Kirk’s been dealt a missing Irishman[2] and a brainwashed third-in-command, so of course he does the reasonable thing and observes Beta III for a month from orbit so that the next tentative contact with this unknown culture will be successful. Seriously, what? He immediately suits up with the landing party to head on down. You know it’s going to be a good time, because while the rest of them look like Pa Ingalls on a visit to Saint Paul, Spock is wearing some kind of a nun’s habit?

All of the townspeople they meet are zombified like Sulu, until 6 o’clock when an orgy-with-two-by-fours breaks out. Kirk and the landing party hide in a hotel belonging to Reger (Harry Townes) and get folks riled with their ignorance of local customs. Before long the robed “Lawgivers” turn up to assimilate them into “The Body,” the communal intelligence under the command of a god-like presence named Landru (Charles Macaulay). This is exactly what happened the last time the Federation showed up, which is why everyone wants to know if Kirk and Co. are “The Archons.”

Reger is torn between his side-job as a resistance cell leader and his deep programming to revere Landru and The Body, but he takes the landing party under his wing long enough for them all to get arrested. Did I mention all-of-a sudden they can’t just leave because there’s a heat beam focused on the Enterprise, making it impossible to drop the shields and transport them home? And that its orbit is decaying?[3]

More doctrinally rigorous starship captains would let the ship scorch up in atmo rather than violate The Prime Directive, but Kirk is happy to split hairs. The culture of Beta III is in stasis under the total rule of Landru, so he can do what the fuck he wants! Eventually Kirk and Spock break out for a face-to-face with the Man Upstairs, only to find that Landru is a machine. Programmed by the original Landru to maintain the culture of his planet in peaceful stasis forever, the computer is one man’s solution to Beta III’s long ago total collapse.

So Kirk cooks the thing with a hand phaser and plunges the planet’s hive-mind population into sudden, radical autonomy. As per usual, he promises the Federation will send a bunch of “specialists” to help out, and then he and the crew are on their way.[4]

Ignore, for a second, the psychosis that probably overtook the majority of the planet the moment Kirk flipped the switch on their distributed consciousness. Forget if you can the fact that trade, transportation, indeed the entire global economy were previously managed by a single machine which now no longer exists. And leave aside the troublesome detail that the secret Landru infrastructure for running everything is predicated on a technology a thousand years ahead of what anybody on Beta III can meaningfully use.

Spock, Dude – what about that crazy outfit?

[1] The very first mention of this important institution in the franchise!

[2] Because he refused to follow orders. What is it with Gene Roddenberry and the Irish?

[3] As observed many times before, fully half of all Star Trek plotting involves disabling this very powerful device so that something interesting can happen.

[4] Any resemblance between Star Trek and the Bush II wartime cabinet is purely coincidental, though slightly chilling. It’s like Kirk is flying around in a giant Green Zone.


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Filed under Childhood Memories, Star Trek Original Series

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