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Return of the Archons

"Well, this is simply ridiculous--a bunch of stone-age characters running around in robes." -- Lindstrom

I couldn't have said it better. Like its predecessor ("Tomorrow is Yesterday"), this is really a place-keeping episode which adds nothing new to the characters, but simply puts them through their paces. There is a problem to be solved and they go out and solve it. No one grows. No one changes. No one reveals anything new. Unfortunately, the characters are put through some of the silliest paces they will ever have, featuring backlot zombies in western attire, and the whole thing ends with one of Kirk's patented (and patently absurd) computer-suicide-inducement speeches. (Shudder.)

I've said before that the ideas were thinning as the first season came to a close, and this is a perfect example. The concept of a central intelligence controlling and coordinating many minds/bodies will have a long run in the history of Trek, but it is introduced for the first time here. It's not, in itself, a bad idea, but the execution is strictly B-movie. The controller here is a rather Garfunkelesque Big Brother sort. When revealed, he turns out to be one of the cheesiest computer props Trek would ever have, hidden behind the brick wall onto which his image had been projected. It's kind of an x-marks-the-spot moment.

But sloppiness abounds. Assimilation into "the body" can be simple (Sulu's, by way of hollow stick), or incredibly complex (McCoy's, involving chamber with protective operator booth) depending on the needs of the plot. No other explanation is ever given for the difference. Also, everyone is tightly controlled -- except during "festival," another concept that is never explained. (Did anyone else wonder how Sulu reacted to festival while on the ship?) And everyone who is not "of the body" lives in fear of being absorbed, especially the one fellow who is said to be immune to absorption (go figure).

These may be little things, but they reveal that oh so much of this story was just never worked out, and large portions simply don't make sense. Sometimes Kirk can talk to Landru (when the computer has been exposed) and sometimes not (whenever else he appears). Sometimes Landru can call the whole body of zombies into action, and other times (like when they approach the "Hall of Audiences") he either cannot or chooses not to. Sometimes it neutralizes their phasers, sometimes not. Sometimes it interferes with communicators, sometimes not. I could go on.

At least Shatner has shed the smarminess of the previous episode, and returned to his serious, problem-solver face. Kelley makes a great zombie-stooge. And there's one extra crewmember, mentioned by name repeatedly as if his presence meant something (earlier drafts of the script reveal an excised love story between Lindstrom and Tula, another character introduced with much fanfare who goes nowhere). Ultimately this character goes nowhere -- literally -- as he's left behind to deal with all the domestic disputes brought about by Kirk and Spock's violation of the nascent Prime Directive.

Yes, finally the Prime Directive makes its first appearance -- and is promptly ignored for the first of many times. This device, while certainly utopian and within the spirit of Trek, will be broken more times than the time barrier. In fact, it appears solely for the purpose of being broken, since following it to the letter would lead to a whole lot of hands-off decisions and nary a single fist fight. Can't have that.

The production of this episode is highly competent. The guest stars are competent (projecting simpering fear with the very best). The costumes are competent, although there is a moment early on when I wonder (based on dialect which contrasts with costume) whether we're in Wyoming or New England. (I'd swear there's a quote from "Our Town" early in this episode.)

But competence is not what we expect from this creative team. Clearly, they are tired, and the material simply doesn't warrant any monumental effort. And they know that better things are in the pipeline. So this is a "professional" episode all around. It's hardly good.

Rating: Bottom (6)


I know what Sulu was doing aboard ship during "festival"...half-naked swashbuckling! (Oops, wrong episode!)

Posted December 29, 2011 5:59 PM by Tom