“The Return of the Archons”
Written by Gene Roddenberry and Boris Sobelman
Directed by Joseph Pevney
Season 1, Episodes 22
Production episode 6149-22
Original air date: February 9, 1967
Captain’s log. Sulu and O’Neil have been sent down to Beta III, dressed in native clothes, searching for evidence of the U.S.S. Archon, which disappeared there a hundred years earlier. They’re being chased by guys in monk’s robes. Sulu calls for beam-out, but O’Neil is panicking and runs away. And before Sulu can be transported up, one of the guys in robes hits him with a stick. When he materializes, he’s spouting gibberish about being of the body, looking for Archons, paradise, and so on, all with a goofy smile on his face.
Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Lieutenant Lindstrom (the ship’s sociologist), and two security guards, Leslie and Galloway, beam down, also in native attire. Spock observes that everyone’s as vacantly content as Sulu is now. A native asks if they’re in for the festival, and they say they are, and they don’t have accommodations for it yet.
And then the clock strikes six, which is apparently “red hour,” and everyone goes nuts, tearing their clothes, attacking each other, kissing each other, throwing rocks, and just generally rioting. The landing party runs into a building, where they’re met by three older men, Reger, Hacom, and Tamar. Hacom is suspicious of them, because they’re not participating in red hour. Tamar thinks that they simply have different ways in “the valley” (where they’re pretending they’re from), but Hacom says that Landru is all-seeing and they have lawgivers in the valley, too.
Reger brings them to a room, and Kirk questions Reger about Landru, a name they’ve heard a lot, but the very notion of questioning Landru puts Reger in a panic.
They stay the night. At six o’clock the following morning, everyone stops rioting and wanders the streets as if nothing has happened. Reger’s daughter, Tula, is having traumatic aftereffects. McCoy tends to her, but then Hacom returns with two lawgivers, the guys in robes. First they kill Tamar for disobedience, then they inform the landing party that they are not of the body and they will be absorbed. Kirk refuses, which confuses the hell out of the lawgivers, who have never encountered disobedience before. They start communing, which according to Reger means they have time to get away to somewhere safe.
But then everyone stops moving. Reger says it’s Landru summoning the body. As one, everyone picks up a rock or a stick or something and moves on the landing party as a single unit. The landing party holds them off with phasers on stun (it helps that the people move really slowly). One of the people going after them is O’Neil, who is now stunned. Reger says to leave him, as Landru will be able to trace them through him, but Kirk insists on taking him along, so the two security guards carry him.
Reger takes him to a safe house where he has a lighting panel that is obviously way beyond the technology of this world. Reger claims it comes from the time before Landru. At Reger’s urging, McCoy sedates O’Neil before he can come around from the stun blast.
Several times, they have asked if the landing party are “Archons.” Reger finally explains that the Archons are people who came and resisted Landru, presumably the crew of the Archon. Spock has picked up powerful emissions, probably strong enough to bring a starship down from orbit, which may be what happened to the Archon. And, according to a report from Scotty, it’s happening to the Enterprise. Shields are up, but they require all ship’s power; if they divert power to the engines, the shields will fall and the ship will burn to a cinder. They’ve got twelve hours before they’re brought down the way the Archon was.
A hologram of Landru appears before the landing party, referring to them as a disease. Landru says this is a world without hate, fear, conflict, disease, or crime. The landing party, he says, will be absorbed and subverted into the common good of the body. And then they’re all rendered unconscious.
Kirk wakes up to find himself, along with Spock, Lindstrom, and Leslie in a cell. Their phasers and tricorders have been taken away. Two lawgivers come in with McCoy and Galloway, who have both been absorbed into the body, sounding just like Sulu did when he beamed up. The lawgivers take Kirk next, strapping him into a machine. The lawgivers are relieved by a man named Marplon, who turns out to be part of the same resistance as Reger and Tamar. When Kirk is released, he pretends to be of the body to fool the lawgivers.
Spock tries to mind-meld with McCoy, but even he can’t get past the brainwashing. The lawgivers then take Spock away. Marplon reveals that he wasn’t able to help McCoy or Galloway, but he keeps Spock normal the way he did Kirk. Marplon gives him two phasers back and sends him away, with Spock, like Kirk, acting obedient for the sake of the lawgivers.
Back in the cell, Kirk, Spock, and Lindstrom speak in private while McCoy and Galloway sit beatifically (Leslie has, at this point, been completely forgotten about and is not seen for the rest of the episode). Spock believes that a computer is running the planet, a perfectly orderly society, but one with no soul, no spark of creativity. Kirk wants to pull the plug on Landru. Spock mentions the Prime Directive of noninterference, but Kirk dismisses that as applying to a living, breathing culture, not a stagnant one.
Marplon and Reger arrive, returning their communicators to them, but McCoy realizes that they’re not of the body and screams bloody murder. They manage to subdue him and Galloway, and then do likewise for the two lawgivers who respond to McCoy’s screaming.
Kirk and Spock put on the lawgivers’ robes and contact the ship. Scotty says they have six hours before their orbit decays. Kirk orders a guard placed on Sulu. Then they ask Marplon and Reger about Landru, whom they describe as a leader during a time of great war and bloodshed who saw the truth and changed the world, taking them back to a simpler time of peace and tranquility. They ask to be taken to Landru, but Reger panics and begs for the lawgivers to make him of the body again. Spock neck-pinches him, and then Marplon reluctantly agrees to take Kirk and Spock to the Hall of Audiences.
The Landru hologram declares that, for the good of the body, the landing party must die, as must everyone who saw them or spoke to them. Kirk and Spock fire on the wall where the hologram is projected, and find a room with a big computer in it. The computer calls itself Landru, and the original Landru likely programmed it. It neutralizes the two phasers. Landru insists that they will be obliterated for the good of the body.
Kirk asks Landru what is “the good”? Landru says peace, order, and tranquility are the good. Kirk and Spock convince the computer that without creativity, there is no life, and that by stifling creativity it is the evil that must be destroyed for the greater good. Done in by Kirk’s total bullshit, the computer smokes and explodes. The lawgivers find themselves without guidance, and Sulu is back to normal.
The Enterprise leaves Lindstrom and a team behind to help guide them back to normality. No idea who now controls things like infrastructure, food production, sewage, and so on…
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Apparently telling a computer that it’s evil is enough to give it an existential crisis. Who knew?
Fascinating. At one point, Spock decks one of the lawgivers. Kirk comments that that’s a bit old-fashioned and, perhaps conscious of that, he later gives Reger a nerve pinch like a civilized half-Vulcan…
I’m a doctor not an escalator. McCoy is actually pretty calm early on in the episode, which is probably so that it’ll be a bigger contrast when he goes bugnuts crazy later on…
Ahead warp one, aye. Sulu’s landing party is less than a howling success, since he can’t keep his cohort under control—although the time it takes the Enterprise to get their shit together and beam him out is what gets him brainwashed, since if they’d beamed him up when he contacted them, he’d have been okay.
I cannot change the laws of physics! With Sulu out of commission, Scotty is left in charge of the ship, the first time we’ve seen the chief engineer as part of the chain of command.
Hailing frequencies open. Uhura doesn’t even get dialogue in the episode.
Go put on a red shirt. Galloway and Leslie—both guys we’ve seen before in various roles—are security and do absolutely nothing of any use whatsoever.
Channel open. “I prefer the concrete, the graspable, the provable.”
“You’d make a splendid computer, Mr. Spock.”
“That is very kind of you, Captain.”
Spock explaining his worldview, Kirk insulting him, and Spock refusing delivery on the insult.
Welcome aboard. Lotsa guests in this one: Harry Townes as Reger, Torin Thatcher as Marplon, Brioni Farrell as Tula, Sid Haig as the first lawgiver, Charles Macaulay as the image of Landru (he’ll be back in “Wolf in the Fold” as Jaris), Morgan Farley as Hacom (he’ll return in “The Omega Glory” as a Yang scholar), Jon Lormer as Tamar (who previously played the image of a Columbia crewmember in “The Cage” and “The Menagerie,” and will return as the old man in “For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky”), and Ralph Maurer as Bilar (we’ll see him again as a Nazi in “Patterns of Force”).
And we have the various Enterprise crew, with the usual suspects DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, and Nichelle Nichols, as well as David L. Ross and Eddie Paskey, plus Christopher Held as Lindstrom and Sean Morgan as O’Neill—Morgan will return as O’Neil in “The Tholian Web.”
The Starfleet Corps of Engineers series (edited by your humble rewatcher) did two different sequels to this episode. One was a direct sequel, as the Corps of Engineers ship the U.S.S. Lovell is sent to Beta III to deal with the aftermath of the Enterprise‘s actions (aided by Scotty) in Foundations Book 2 by Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore. And the Landru computer winds up affecting the Ferengi a century hence in Caveat Emptor by Ian Edginton & Mike Collins.
This story is told in the alternate timeline of 2009’s Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness in issues #9-10 of IDW’s Star Trek ongoing comic.
This episode has the first-ever mention of the Prime Directive, though it’s only mentioned long enough for Kirk to dismiss it as non-applicable here.
To boldly go. “Are you of the body?” What’s most frustrating about this dreadful episode is that it starts out promising. The teaser and Act 1 have some great stuff. There’s jumping right into the middle with Sulu and O’Neil being chased, then the intrigue of “red hour” and Hacom’s comment about how the landing party is too young to be excused from the festival.
And then none of that is followed up on. The rest of the episode focuses entirely upon Landru’s orderly society. No mention is made of the festival after it’s over, nor is its purpose ever explicated. Nor does the script ever bother to explain why older people don’t participate in the festival.
Then we have the endless asking what Landru is without any kind of response, and constant repetition of stock phrases before we finally get to the climax, where Kirk convinces the computer that creativity is necessary for life, a specious argument that somehow makes Landru go tits-up in a puff of illogic. It’s the birth of two of Star Trek‘s most egregious clichés, the world-running computer and Kirk talking a computer to death, and while the former has potential (that the episode wastes), the latter is hilariously pathetic, as there is nothing in Kirk’s questioning of Landru that is in any way convincing as enough to make the computer go blooey.
A good story could be made about a computer creating a society of rigid order and peace that has no soul, but this is so not it.
Warp factor rating: 2
Next week: “A Taste of Armageddon”
Keith R.A. DeCandido will be a Special Guest at the Myths and Legends Convention (a.k.a. MALcon) in Denver, Colorado this weekend, alongside Brian of Draco and the Malfoys, Stant Litore, Pandora Celtica, Tomas O’Dreams, Kilted Man, Quincy Allen, Vivian Trask, and bunches more. Keith’s schedule can be found here.